Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Day the Twenty Seventh

So that's it. I flew from Barcelona to Frankfurt this morning and then connect to my Calgary flight in the early afternoon. I treated myself to one last German meal of Frankfurters and potato salad because I slept through the breakfast service on my first flight and was starving when I arrived. I sat by the window while I ate and watched the planes come and go. I like to imagine who might be on them, where they are going, why they are going. There are so many stories and every airplane if you think about it. I think it's one of those special human moments, for that one hour or nine hour flight everyone shares a very similar experience but for each person there's a different reason. Today, for me, it's going home after an incredible month trekking around Europe. For some people, they will be going to visit family or friends, others will be on their way to Banff and Lake Louise. If I were a batter writer I'd get this point across a lot more clearly but I think you get the gist.

I'm sad that the trip is over, I doubt I'll have the opportunity to do this again any time soon, if at all, but I can guarantee there will be other adventures. On the flip side, I'm really ready to go home. I miss that puppy that snores under my desk at night. I miss hanging out with Matt all day and doing nothing at all but it always feels like a lot in the end. I miss soccer, almost the most, it's been almost 5 weeks since I touched a ball and it's like a drug for me, I need it. I also have this big new adventure of teaching elementary school coming up, that is both nerve-wracking and exciting.

It's time for me to go home.

Day the Twenty Sixth

This is it, the last day before I trek halfway around the world and back to the Canadian Prairies.
We really didn't do much today. The morning and early afternoon was spent at the beach swimming, reading, catching some rays and enjoying another meal from the market.
We ended up back at the market for dinner and bought a variety of empanadas to eat down by the pier. Also, a litre of Sangria, but that should go without saying.
After eating it was back to the hostel to pack my incredibly heavy bag and almost equally heavy carry-on and try to get some sleep before my 4:15 wakeup call.
It was a good and relaxing end to the trip.

Things I ate:
     - fresh fruit, Iberian ham, cheese of some kind, bread, papaya orange juice
     - empanadas, fresh fruit, sangria
Highlight of the day:
     - enjoying a final day in Europe relaxing on the beach

Day the Twenty Fifth

Today was another divide and conquer day.
Dani wanted to see Sagrada Familia and Park Güell, both of which Steph and I have seen in the past. So she made her way there and we went off to Tibidabo Mountain. Tibidabo is a mountain, obviously, at the back end of Barcelona. It has a very large church built on the very top and below that is one of the oldest amusement parks in Europe. It is just over 100 years old and still has a few original rides. Historic and fun. Getting to the park is half the fun. We took the metro as far as we could and then rode an old fashioned street car most of the way up. To get to the very top you have to take a funicular. We could have tried to walk it but both agreed that we wouldn't have survived. It was sunny, humid, and around 36 degrees. So we spent the day there riding the rides and enjoying the view.
We all ended up at the hostel around the same time later, sweaty and tired, so we hung out for a bit and the. Went out for dinner on La Rambla. We ended up settling on a place that had a paella and tapas special, you choose one mediocre paella and get two mystery tapas. The tapas part worked out great, they were all delicious. The paella part didn't. It kind of sucked.
Dani had managed to come down with heat exhaustion from her day so she went back to the hostel to rehydrate and sleep after dinner while Steph and I went for a wander down by the pier. We ended up buying a litre of Sangria and 2 litres of water and drank it all while sitting at the Christopher Columbus column and watching the traffic go by. Steph and I have been friends since we were about 5 so we spent some time reminiscing on that and doing what we do best, enjoying the local drinks.

Things I ate:
     - tomato and cheese baguette
     - gross theme park food
     - sucky paella and delicious tapas
     - lots of Sangria

Highlight of the day:
     - drinking with Christopher Columbus

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Day the Twenty Fourth

We've made it to Barcelona! Granted, we had to wake up at 1:45am to make it here, but we did it! 24 days ago when I was first walking around London this seemed too far away to even think about. There was so much that had to happen first.
We had to catch a train to the airport that left the station at 2:37, thus the early wakeup call. Our flight was one of the first off the runway at 6 this morning, we flew in luxury with EasyJet. If you aren't familiar with the wonders of EasyJet, it's an European budget airline, is bright orange, and a similar experience to a Greyhound bus in the sky. They charge you for everything that they possibly can so we had to make sure all of our packs weighed in under 20kg and that we only had one piece of carry-on each, that includes purses. So all the heavy stuff went into the little backpacks and we opted to weigh my big pack as it was the heaviest. They make you pay for the scale so we only did one. It was a little stressful because I was sure it would come in over the limit but it was a perfect 19.5 kg. I feel like I should get some sort of prize, but a small one because a big one would put me over the weight limit.
In typical MacGillivray fashion, I zonked out before we even left the terminal and woke up about 3 minutes before the tires hit the runway so I can't really divulge any details about the flight. We made our way to the hostel, grabbed our beach stuff, put on more sunscreen than should ever be necessary, and then made our way to the market to pick up a picnic lunch. This is something Graham and I did when we were in Barcelona together two years ago. The market on Las Rambla has cheap and delicious fruit, veggies, cheese, meat, and bread, so buy some of each and for about €6 per person you have a delicious meal. We took everything down to the beach and hung out in the sand, sun, and incredibly salty waves for about 3 hours and then went back to the hostel to get out of the sun for a bit. The water is actually so salty that it is hard to swim in, you have to put a lot of effort into getting your body underwater because you really just float. It was so needed to relax on the beach after the last month of walking all over Europe, though.
We ended the day with a little shopping and sangria and then went off to bed.

Things I ate:
     - croissant, fresh squeezed OJ
     - bread, Spanish ham, Catalan cheese, fruit, mango and orange juice
     - seafood paella
     - Nutella ice cream
     - sangria
Highlight of the day:
     - relaxing on the beach

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Day the Twenty Third

Part 2 of 49 hours in Berlin.
After completing all of Lonely Planet's suggested walks in Berlin yesterday we decided to change things up a bit by walking around Berlin all day.
We started out as a trio and made our way to the Jewish Museum where Steph and I would eventually part ways with Dani, she just museums a lot more hardcore than we do. The museum is really well done. It starts with the Holocaust and deportations of the Jews from Germany and other occupied countries and then moves upstairs into a general history of Judaism. The first floor is very simple with just a few artefacts but it gives a detailed backstory for each item and the person who owned it. The Holocaust Tower is a large empty tower with a small slit of light and lots of echo. It is impressive and moving and represents the void left by the Holocaust. A definite must see for anyone in Berlin.
We moved through the rest pretty quickly. I really enjoyed a portrait exhibit about the postwar trials.
Steph and I left and went on to the Topography of Terror for more Holocaust related fun. It was a really dark day.
Topography of Terror is a free exhibit that goes through Hitler's rise to power and then all the history until the end of the war. It is also very well done but takes a few hours to get through because there is just so much information.
Because we hadn't done enough walking yet, we went to the East Side Gallery and walked all 2 km of the remaining wall. Pretty cool but very disappointing that so many people have vandalized the art.
We continued on our cheery way back to the Holocaust Memorial to check out the room of names, an exhibit that gives a name and short biography about every known victim of the Holocaust. We heard about 7 people, it would take over 7 years to hear all of them.
We made our way for a traditional German dinner in a Bavarian beer hall. Steph convinced me to try pork knuckle and it turns out it's delicious.

Highlight of the day:
     - East Side Gallery
Things I ate:
     - standard hostel breakfast
     - currywurst from a street stand
     - pork knuckle with stewed Bavarian cabbage

Day the Twenty Second

Our day started at 4:30 am when the train arrived at main station in Berlin. I can sleep on any form of transportation, I have never stayed awake for a whole train ride in Europe because I am not physically capable of it. It must be a genetic think because Graham goes comatose on trains too. Anyways, I did not get a wink of sleep on the overnight train. The cabin was noisy and cramped, I kept getting stepped on or kicked. It was awful. Steph managed to get about an hour out in the hallway sucking the popcorn juice (this is a term my father uses that describes someone being face down on a carpet, much like my younger brother when he tantrumed at a movie theatre once...). Needless to say, when we arrived in Berlin we were not happy campers. Still, we only had 49 hours before our flight departed for Barcelona so we intended to make the most of it. 
First thing I did was step on glass and have to remove it from my big toe with no first aid supplies whatsoever. Fantastic start.
We locked up our packs and went on a Lonely Planet walking tour from the guide books Steph and I had bought. It took us first past the Reichstag, then to Brandenburg Gate, up,to the University and Museum Island, then the Jewish district. The coolest thing about this was being at Brandenburg Gate at 5:30 before anyone else was there. I did my very best Ronald Regan impression, as any Historian would.
After the walk we had a quick snooze at the train station until the German Police came, yelled at us, and made us leave. 
We decided it was best to cut our losses, go to the hostel, nap, and rally for the afternoon. So that's what we did. 
After napping for a couple of hours we all split up for some personal time exploring Berlin. Steph and I eventually met up but Dani didn't have much interest in Berlin so she found a museum to check out. For the afternoon I did two more Lonely Planet guided walks, one through the Teirgarten and another called Walking the Wall that followed the Berlin Wall. The Tiergarten walk was beautiful. It was a bit rainy so there weren't very many people around and it was very peaceful. I could happily spend days wandering through it. The Wall walk was very cool. It started just at the end of the Tiergarten and went through the Holocaust Memorial, Checkpoint Charlie, the Soviet Memorial, and past some sections of still standing wall. It was great. The Holocaust Memorial is so well done, very moving.
Steph and I ended our busy day of three walking tours on only 2 hours of sleep with some well deserved currywurst, beer, and apple strudel.
This day was very overwhelming. We were exhausted, dehydrated, usually hungry, and generally grumpy but we agreed it wasn't a bad day, just not a happy day. Berlin is a big stop for Steph and I but is actually our shortest visit of the trip so we expected it to be a little intense.

Things I ate:
     - Pain au chocolat
     - Doner Kebap
     - curry wurst and fries
     - Big Beer
     - Applestrudel

Highlight of the day:
     - tie between the Tiergarten, Holocaust Memorial, and finally going to sleep.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Day the Twenty First

It's our last day in Amsterdam :( this has been my favorite city so far. I love the canals and buildings and atmosphere.
We got up earlyish to go to the Anne Frank and beat the line. Good thing we did because we only had to wait for 2 and a half hours in the direct sunlight, standing on cobblestones. The lineup usually doesn't last more than an hour and a half according to the guy at our hostel, so we really nailed the timing on this one. We did finally get in though. It's a very well done museum that goes through Otto Frank's old warehouse and then takes you up into the annex. There is no furniture in it at the request of Otto Frank, he wanted it left empty to represent the loss. It's eerie to walk through the space, but it's much bigger than I had imagined. The house is located along a canal and has beautiful views but the annex is located in the back and looks into a wall. I can't imagine spending two years there and not being able to leave.
Next, we ventured the Van Gogh Museum. Steph and I have about an hour in art museums before we hit our limit so we left Dani to do it at her own pace. It was neat. There was lots of Van Gogh.
After that it was time to grab our things from the hostel and catch the overnight train to Berlin. We shared a cabin with two Dutch boys who shared some beer and a middle aged German man named Rolf. Nobody slept.
Day the Twenty Second will begin at hour 22 of being awake. Then it goes to a dark place.

Things I ate:
     - cheese roll and chocolate twist. I love pastries.
     - a loaf of cheese and onion bread
     - ice cream
     - salad, this balances out my choice for lunch

Highlight of the day:
     - the lineup at the Anne Frank house.... No, that can't be it.
     - Van Goghing overboard on the Van Gogh puns with Steph
     - actually, the Anne Frank house

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Day the Twentieth

Today technically begins with last night....
We met a group of seven English boys in our hostel and bonded over a mutual opinion that Justin Bieber is a prick. When we returned from a rainy evening walk along the canal we got to talking with them again and eventually ended up going to the bars sometime around 1 in the morning. It's Amsterdam though, so that's ok. They are all acting students at some prestigious school in London and, as we learned, are incredibly talented. This first became apparent when they randomly started "The Circle of Life." They also made up a musical about how cold and/or warm it is in Canada. We had a blast and were out until almost 3 with them.
The next morning, or I guess at a more reasonable hour that same morning we got up, grabbed breakfast and set out on an epic adventure. We rented some Dutch bikes from a shop, they're like cruisers kind of, they have one speed and no hand brakes. They also don't come with helmets, sorry Mom and Dad. I haven't seen a bicycle or motorcycle or scooter helmet since arriving in the Netherlands. No worries though, we're all still neurologically intact, or at least as much as we were before the bike trip.
We ended up riding our bikes up to Central Station and taking a ferry across the harbour. Then we spent about an hour getting hopelessly lost and eventually finding the Zaanstad windmills. Of course, they closed exactly three minutes before we arrived so we couldn't go inside but we still walked around them. They were neat, I personally enjoyed the bike adventure out there more than the destination but I did get some pretty pictures. Our ride back was a little more successful, we only took one wrong return and had a small detour. I'd guess that the whole trip was around 20km. Some fun things that happened:
     - we rode up a high bridge, on fixed speed bikes....
     - rode down the hill on the other side with no brakes
     - saw some goats
     - Steph and I highfived whilst pedalling
After we returned the bikes we grabbed a grocery store diner and some beer and headed back to the hostel. We ended up sharing our beer with the Brits and then went for a wander to the Red Light District with them before eventually going to bed.

Things I ate:
     - apple and bacon pannekoeken
     - sausage roll
     - cheese and meat and bread
Highlight of the day:
     - biking through the Dutch countryside. Beautiful.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Day the Nineteenth

Revision: I am never drinking again until Barcelona, unless it is free or part of a tour.

It turns out our hostel is located in the middle of the bar and partying area of Amsterdam, which I think is actually all of Amsterdam, so needless to say, we didn't sleep well. 
We got up this morning and went back to Central Station for a canal cruise. While waiting in line for the cruise we chatted with and American family from Minnesota, they had a week off and decided to fly to Amsterdam for 3 days. I liked that. The cruise was pretty cool, it was a great way to see the city. There was a recording that talked about things we could see, it would say everything in 3 different languages and then in English. Without fail, everytime the English part was playing a kid screamed or we went under a traffic bridge and heard nothing. The American family snuck some food and drink on and shared some of their wine with us though. That was better than knowing anything about Amsterdam.
We split up after the tour, Dani went to the Rembrandt House and Steph and I went to the Heineken Experience. It was absolutely pouring and we had one tiny umbrella to share so we were very excited to get to the gift shop at the end and buy ponchos. Turns out that the rest of it is cool too! Our entry got us wristbands that were good for 2 free drinks and a gift. The experience takes you through the history of Heineken and then through the brewing process. About half way through there is a beer testing. Turns out I've been drinking it wrong forever and it's actually good if you do it properly! I should also mention that this was my first Heineken ever. It continues through some more modern representations of Heineken, namely Champs League sponsorship. At the end we exchanged our tokens for 2 beer each and enjoyed them in a lounge. To get the free gift we had to leave the gift store, this time with ponchos, and walk 15 minutes. Amsterdam is like a labyrinth and tourists never get out, so we got a little lost on the way.

Things I ate:
     - banana chocolate muffin, marijuana-free
     - pannekoeken with bacon, cheddar, and onions
     - coconut curry chicken noodle thing from a place called Wok to Walk
Highlight of the day:
     - having a Heineken poncho in the pouring rain after not having one
     - the whole Heineken Experience

Day the Eighteenth

Today was not very exciting.

We left Brussels early in the morning and moved our stuff to the Antwerp train station with the intention of spending the day exploring Antwerp. When we arrived though, we learned it was:
a) Sunday
b) Belgian independence day
This meant that everything was closed. It turns out that there's not a lot to do in Antwerp anyways, so we walked down to the river. We found a plaque celebrating the Canadian Army that opened their harbour up in WWII. That was pretty neat.
Eventually we got on a train and made it to Amsterdam in the rain! I can promise that no human has ever been as happy to see rain as we were after the heat in Belgium.
We didn't arrive until late but we did manage to fit in one activity and went to the red light district after dinner. It was... weird? but in a totally different way than I had anticipated. You walk through these streets packed with bachelor parties and 18th birthday bashes and in each window is a scantily clad woman. Don't make eye contact, unless you want to buy some time with one, then you should probably do that.

Things I ate:
     - chocolate twist, banana yogurt
     - club sandwich, much better than the one in Paris
     - worst lasagna of my life

Highlight of the day:
     - arriving in Amsterdam, it's beautiful

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Day the Seventeenth

After surviving yesterday I had a new lease on life and was excited to go explore Bruges. Unfortunately for us, Belgium is located in the centre of the sun and is a fiery inferno. Steph and Dani will verify that this is not an exaggeration as one of them is currently emailing her mother in her underwear and the other has a wet towel wrapped around her head and is "sweating buckets of balls." So it's a little hot.
We visited a monastery first, huge challenge for Steph because she had to be quiet for about ten consecutive minutes. There was an old church from the 1280s which was pretty cool but not a lot else going on. We continued through the streets to the cathedral and then to the town square. When we got to the town square we had a nice lunch and then decided to climb the Bruge Belfry (that means bell tower). The tower had 366 steps in a nice, narrow, steep, spiral staircase and it was approximately 800 degrees the whole way up. Totally worth the hell fire though, when we got to the top there was an incredible 360 view of Bruges and a cool breeze!!!!! We climbed back down, much harder than climbing up, and walked back to a nice little park where Steph and I ate waffles, Dani ate chocolate covered oranges, and I regaled them with fun-loving stories of Nazis and WWII fire storms. Things are always sunshine and rainbows when I'm around.
Our little trip to Bruges ended with a packed train straight into the pits of hell. Also, not an exaggeration. The air was not working and it was so hot that you could actually watch the sweat running down arms, legs, faces, and backs. The chocolate in my bag melted immediately, I'm pretty sure if I had anything dry and not drenched in sweat it would have instantly burst into flames. Thankfully it was only a 50 minute train ride and we all managed to sleep for most of it, mostly because that was our only hope of survival. We got off the train into 31 degree weather and it felt cold after the torture we had just experienced. In all seriousness, that train car was well over 40 degrees and so full people were standing at the doors. Brutal.
We went for dinner and back to Delirium Cafe where I enjoyed a nice Canada Dry ginger ale because I am never drinking again until Barcelona.
Tomorrow we leave Brussels, spend the day in Antwerp and then move on to Amsterdam. Belgium has been great and we all loved it, it just really needs to cool it on this whole 1 million degrees Celsius thing.

Things I ate:
     - fresh squeezed orange juice and chocolate twist (also, like a pain au chocolate, just twisty)
     - Moules et frites, mussels and fries
     - Belgian waffle with bananas, Nutella, and chantilly
     - Chinese-ish food

Highlight of the day:
     - feeling a cool breeze at the top of the tower
     - when Dani told the guy at the hotel "we're Canadian and we just can't do it" so he went and found us a fan for our room

Day the Sixteenth

AKA: worst hangover of my life.

Belgian bars are fun the night before, not so much the next morning. A combination of 40 degrees and a very busy 2 weeks prior meant that somebody was in bed until 2:00 this afternoon. It was touch and go for a bit but thanks to some red sport drink and a pain au chocolat I was able to get moving.
We were supposed to go to Ypres today but couldn't get a return train late enough at night so we opted to stay in Brussels and sweat it out in this inhumane heat.
We made our way to the Atomium, a giant atom shaped building that was made for expo '58 and never came down. It has a series of stairs and escalators that take you into spheres. The top one has a great view of all of Brussels. It was really cool. But the escalators felt as though they were bringing you through the seven levels of hell.

It's hot in Belgium.

Things I ate:
     - not a lot
     - eventually some Vietnamese food for dinner
     - not a drop of beer. Never again.
Highlight of the day:
     - surviving the morning
     - the atomium

Day the Fifteenth

Most of our day today was spent training from Caen to Paris and then from Paris to Brussels.
We got to our hotel, dropped bags, and went off to explore Brussels a bit. We ended up walking through the town square and up to the cathedral but then took a wrong turn on our way to the palace and went to find dinner instead.
After dinner we went to Delirium Cafe, it's a bar that serves over 3000 beers. We had a good time sampling the selection and drank mostly for free because our bartender was great, and she loved us. We met a group of German boys who asked where we were from, we said "Canada" and they erupted into "Oh Canada...."
Not a busy day, but fun.

Things I ate:
     - hotel breakfast again, croissant and Nutella
     - ham and cheese baguette with macarons for dessert
     - deep friend fish, or something, and frites

Highlight of the day:
     - the German rendition of Oh Canada

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Day the Fourteenth

Everything's coming up Milhouse.

Steph and I started by watching our bus fly past us this morning on our walk to try to find the bus stop. We had to get from Caen to Courseulles-sur-Mer where the Juno Beach centre is. We eventually caught our bus at the train station and made it out to the beach. When we left this morning it was cloudy and cool, in the hour it took to drive to the coast it had become sunny and was around 30 degrees all day. That went over well with our Canadian complexions. 
We spent about an hour and a half in the Juno Beach Centre. There is a really great museum that takes you through pre-war politics, Canada in the 30s, the appeasement policy, declaration of war, the different theatres, and finally right up to the D-day landings. The whole thing started with a video where you're made to feel as though you are in a landing craft and then finishes with a very moving tribute to the Canadians who fought in Normandy. I loved it.
It was also the first time in two weeks that I was surrounded by Canadians. Very apologetic and friendly.
After the museum, we had about an hour before our tour of the beach so we went to a bakery for lunch and bought macarons that were literally the size of my fist for dessert. 
The tour was awesome. We got to go into the old German tunnels and surveillance fortifications. The beach has changed quite a bit since the raid but you can find bits of bunker all over the place if you're looking for it. 
The beach is now used as a beach. Shocker. But actually quite alarming as a Canadian walking through it. There are monuments and flags everywhere, I'm sure the maple leaf is flying more throughout Normandy than it is in Calgary, and in the midst are thousands of tanned French people catching some rays and playing in the water. It seemed surreal that the same beaches stormed on D-day are used for relaxing now. We spent about an hour laying in the sun, when in Rome....
On the way back we watched our bus drive past us while we waited at the wrong stop on the other side of the road. We have 4 university degrees between us but can't figure out a regional bus route in France. Not to worry though, we spent the next hour drinking cider on a patio overlooking the beach. 
Then a miracle happened! I realized about 2 minutes before the bus came that somewhere between the patio and the bus stop my ticket had fallen out of my pocket. I told Steph to wait and I would just go see if it was nearby. I got down to the path we had taken from the beach and my bus ticket blew across the sidewalk I front of me! I told you, everything's coming up Milhouse.
We went back to our favourite creperie for dinner after a solid hour nap on the bus and missing our stop in Caen.
Today was our last day in France, we have a travel day to Brussels tomorrow to start the Belgium leg of the tour!

Things I ate:
     - a croissant with Nutella, almost pain au chocolat
     - lobster meat sandwich and a strawberry macaron as big as my fist
     - salted caramel and dark chocolate ice cream
     - Camembert and bacon crepe and a shared apricot chocolate grand mariner flambé crepe for dessert
     - cider. obviously

Highlight of the day: 
     - stoked on being Canadian, we're a seriously rad country and did good things over here

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Day the Thirteenth

I. Love. Caen.

Steph and I abandoned Dani in Paris today. She will be enjoying Versailles and the Louvre while we visit a bit of Normandy.
We caught a train this morning. Steph, the Montreal Hulk, lifted our packs onto the shelf above the seats on the train, like where carry-on goes. I don't even understand how it happened.
We spent the afternoon exploring the town of Caen, where we're staying. Caen is located just 20 km from Juno beach and was liberated by the Canadians on July 18, 1944 after the D-Day landings. We are missing the seventieth anniversary by 2 days.
That's ok though!
Caen is beautiful and quiet and friendly and a nice change from busy, rude Paris. We visited several cathedrals and a castle today and even had time for a walk by the river.
Dinner was incredible. We went to a small creperie called Creperie la Fromentine and ordered 2 crepes to share and some local cider. It was absolutely perfect. I want to eat every meal there for the rest of my life.
After dinner we went for a walk and came across a twelfth century church that was destroyed during the raid in 1944. I can't even explain how cool it is for me to be in the place where the things happened. Such history. You can still see shell and blast marks on some of the buildings. We were walking with a purpose though, we were on a mission to find more Normandy cider. Carrefour is open until 9, we arrived at 8:57, just enough time to find the literal wall of cider, get overwhelmed, panic, and choose a local pear cider.
Currently, we are sitting in our room, watching EuroNews (the only English channel on our TV, but in the last hotel there was just CNN International so this is a real step up), drinking our ciders (Steph got red apple), and enjoying the natural air conditioning aka breeze.
Tomorrow is Juno Beach!

Things I ate:
    - Choco Suisse! Also, pain au chocolat
    - tuna baguette and an apple pastry
    - ham, gruyere, potato, and creme fresche crepe followed by a chocolate, banana, and chantilly crepe
    - cider. cider. cider.
Highlight of the day:
     - we found a cool exhibit about the 1944 raid that really loves Canada
     - the crepes
     - the cider
     - the ruins
     - I just really love Caen, ok?

Day the Twelfth

Happy Bastille Day, France!
We met up with Steph this morning. She was trapped like a little animal at Gare du Nord and so ehow worked her way above and around us via a series of escalators. We eventually all ended up in the same place though.
We worked our way around Paris today in an international sea of humans. It was crazy busy and crazy hot. We basically walked from Notre Dame down to the Louvre, up Champs Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe, and down toward the Eiffel Tower. The. Paris seemingly closed around us. Something to do with crowd control and to avoid terror related activities but all the metros, roads, bridges, and anything else near the tower closed in preparation for the fireworks. We eventually made our way back to the hotel but couldn't find a way down to the fireworks that didn't involve a couple hours of walking after an already busy day so we opted for the tv instead. In the end we were all so tired from the day that it wouldn't have worked out anyways and Steph and Dani were both asleep before the show was half done.

Things I ate:
     - pain au chocolat. Total surprise.
     - Moroccan couscous and meatballs thing
     - worst club sandwich of my life and the restaurant wanted to charge customers a euro for the bathroom.

Highlight of the day:
     - freeing Steph from Gare du Nord
     - this really terrible series of photos of Steph and I at the Louvre pyramids

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Day the Eleventh

I'm sitting on my bed watching the World Cup finals. Argentina just scored and there was a loud "yeahhhhh!" from outside and then it was called offside and there was an equally loud "ohhhhh!" I guess the French still have hard feelings for Germany after that whole WWII thing.

Anyways, after a 10.5 hour sleep I found Dani at the airport today. I told her that we could go back to the hotel to drop off her stuff but then we wouldn't be returning until after 8:00 so that she didn't have the opportunity to sleep. Apparently I'm mean.
First, we took the Metro down to where everything is and walked to Musee d'Orsay. We stood in line for like an hour, that was thrilling. Then I ruined the first of many art galleries for Dani. We went through the pre-impressionist galleries first, then up to the impressionists. I was still being well behaved at this part and it was actually really cool. We stopped for some very expensive food in a cafe on the second floor. We had tried to eat at the top where the restaurant is built into the old clock face of the train station (the museum is in an old train station, everything in Europe used to be something else) but it was too busy. After some nourishment and caffeine to avoid a Dani meltdown, we went and saw the Van Gogh gallery. It was all down hill after that because next we walked through the gallery of statues of our drunk friends, and then the gallery of benches you can't sit on. After that we had to Gogh because the museum was closing. Dani didn't think that was as funny as I did.
Next, in our day of pure torture in Paris, we climbed all 660 steps of the Eiffel Tower. In the pouring rain. Pouring. Like literal buckets. Maybe not literal, but close enough. It was great though, once we reached the top the rain stopped and the clouds and fog lifted enough for the view to be incredible. Then, as we were entering the elevator to go down, the clouds parted and the sun shone through while a chorus of angels sang from above. Or something like that.
Dani is allergic to Paris. She has Golfer's vasculitis which is a heat rash that you get from your ankle to knee in heat and/or humidity (Paris has an abundance of both). She'll be ok though, I had it in Barcelona last time I went and it cleared up after a day or two. I think it's genetic though, her parents are both Golfers.
Tomorrow is Bastille Day and my last day in Paris so we don't have much planned. It'll be fun to see where the day takes us.

Things I ate (I hear this is Brittany's favourite part):
     - pain au chocolat. erryday.
     - chicken Caesar salad which was actually delicious
     - a granola bar and half a litre of yogurt for dinner. I'm not proud of this one.
Highlight of the day:
     - making Dani cry in the gallery of drunk friends. It was from laughing. I'm not a total jerk.
     - The Eiffel Tower

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Day the Tenth

Today was much busier than yesterday!
We woke up and ate breakfast at the hotel. I selected pain au chocolat, as I will every morning that I am in France. Why would you choose not to eat a chocolate filled croissant everyday?
First on the agenda was visiting Sacre Couer, something I missed last time. The cathedral is beautiful, but holy smokes is it high up. It was hot and humid this morning, not ideal step climbing weather for a Canadian, especially one from the prairies, but we made it and it actually wasn't that bad. There were so many tourists today. I try not to hate them because I am also one, but my god do some of them ever move slowly! We walked through the church, I'm getting to the point in this Europe trip where a church is a church, is a church. But the ceiling was incredible.
We walked back down the hill and worked our way down through the Louvre grounds and into the Jewish area for lunch. Great food. Lots of rich people. Also, lots of Hasidic Jews doing cool tricks on the street.
After lunch we walked back across the river, down past Notre Dame and into Saint Germain for Gordon to check out a book store. Since I don't speak French and wasn't interested in the French books I bought a couple patches for my travel blanket and watched some sort of Syria related protest. I mostly was interested in the police walking around with semi-automatic weapons.
After all that, Gordon was off back to London and I was left to my own devices. We said our goodbyes and I hopped on a Metro down to the Seine to check out the book and print vendors along the river. There was a grocery stop on my way back to pick up some snacks for dinner and now I have a night and morning off. I'll be collecting Dani at 11:25 tomorrow morning to begin the next part of this adventure.
It was sad saying bye to Gordon, I hope to see him soon and really value the time I got to spend with him these past 10 days.

Also worth mentioning; lots of feces on the streets today and Paris smells like pee. Gordon and I theorized as to why that was... dogs, homelessness, lots of drunk people for Bastille weekend. But! When I was walking on my own I saw a guy pop a squat in the middle of the road. So there's that.

Things I ate:
     - pain au chocolat
     - falafel special.... More delicious than it sounds
Highlight of the day:
     - spending one last day with Gordon
     - also, the badass sunset out my window right now

Day the Ninth

Today, we took the train to Paris. I can't tell you what that was like because I slept the entire way.
The rest of the day wasn't overly eventful. We got into Paris around 4, went to the hotel, and then wandered down to the bank. We found some dinner at a Tibetan restaurant and then made our way back to the hotel.

Since there's not much to mention from today I'll fill in a bit about what I did last time I was here.
Paris is where I met Graham for our first trip. We spent one day climbing the Eiffel Tower, visiting Arc du Triomophe and Notre Dame, and then capped it off with a 45 minute run through the Louvre. Our next day was spent out at Vimy. We got lost trying to find the monument and then again trying to get back to the train, we walked through stinging nettles and ended up with terrible blisters. But, Vimy Ridge was amazing! We spent hours going through the cemeteries and walking around the monument. Every Canadian should try to fit that one in. Our last day we explored the city a bit more. We went to a market and had a delicious Moroccan lunch and did some shopping. We also visited Pere Lachaise cemetery where the likes of Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, and Georges Melies are buried.
I loved Paris the first time and am excited to be here again to catch some of the things I missed.

Things I ate:
     - tuna and carrot baguette
     - fried rice and meat and veggies and other Tibetan things
Highlight of the day:
     - Exploring Paris with Gordon, he knows where all the good things are

Friday, 11 July 2014

Day the Eighth

There is a group of young  men trying out for the local football team who are also staying at our hotel. I learned this at 2 am and then again at 5. I fell asleep with the tv on, watching the Netherlands v. Argentina game, it is located in front of the window. When the boys came home and woke up the hotel last night I looked up to see a blonde woman staring back at me through a window (on the tv, though I didn't know that). Naturally, after sleeping in the most uncomfortable position imaginable, my limbs were all pins and needles so I lay there in a frozen terror until I fell back asleep again. I realized in the morning that it had only been the tv.
Good start!
We got up and ate breakfast at the hotel. The boys were down there too and I ended up chatting with a young Canadian who is going out for the team. He was incredibly friendly, as we are overseas, and sounds like he may in fact make it here.
After breakfast we went into town to do some shopping and then Tony drove us to Newark. Gordon and I visited a couple of a cathedrals on the way while Tony and Laura napped in the car. Newark was a really cool medieval town. There were lots of Tudor houses still standing and castle ruins from the civil war. We ate lunch in a Tudor house that was all warped and sloped.
Gordon and I spent the afternoon on the train back to London.
We met up with Lynn, a work friend of Gordon's, and her husband, Al. They are Americans from Colorado and New York and were very friendly. We had great conversation over the fanciest food I've had in my life. It was at a little French place across from St John's Palace. I fit in great in my Birkenstocks and messy hair. The waiter took pity on me not being able to read the menu or understand what/how to order and brought me a side of potatoes. I clearly represent myself well in public. The food was delicious though, and in the end I don't think I made too much a fool of myself.
We took one last walk through London very late after dinner.
Nest up: Paris

Things I ate:
     - Large Yorkshire pudding filled with veggies, mash, and English sausage
     - Grilled trout in a white wine, saffron, tomato sauce with fennel and artichoke, side o' fries
     - chocolate salted caramel mousse

Highlight of the day:
     - I have a new Facebook friend in Laura, that means real friend, right?
     - A country drive in Nottinghamshire

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Day the Seventh

Well, I've been in England for a week now. I've called soccer "football" a few times, learned what direction to look before crossing the street, and can now pour tea from a tea pot without dumping it all over myself like a sodding fool. I can also use the term "sodding fool" in a sentence.
I've only got two nights left in England and it's been an incredible experience.
Today we left London and took the train to Nottingham. We spent a few hours wandering around the town. We visited the Robin Hood statue which was being occupied by a group of Polish tourists but eventually managed to get a human-free photo. After that we walked along the castle rock down to The Old Trip to Jerusalem Inn, the oldest inn in England, and had a pint of cider.
We took the bus to Mannsfield, where Gordon is from, and I had my daily transit nap. We met up with Gordon's friend, Tony and his daughter, Laura and are all spending the night in Mannsfield before heading our separate ways tomorrow. After checking in to our hotel we went for a walk in Sherwood Forest and the to dinner followed by a drive around time. Gordon showed me the house he grew up in and where he went to Primary school.
Things I ate:
     - something vegetarian for lunch, it needed bacon
     - carvery for dinner. It's carved meats with veggies.
Highlight of the day:
     - talking Football with Tony
     - seeing where Gordon grew up and hearing all about his family and childhood

Day the Sixth

Today ended up being much later than I had anticipated.
It started out with a shopping trip to Primark, this great, super cheap, department store. I bought myself a sweet new rain coat and a shirt. We went back to my hotel to drop the bags off but stopped on our way at this little Soviet era museum. It was full of toys and appliances from behind the iron curtain and was a great little window into a period of history that we don't often see in the west.
We dropped our stuff, picked up sandwiches and fresh strawberries and had lunch in a quiet garden square before wandering through Little Venice. This area of London is a former river, now canal, that is lined with long, thin, houseboats. It was really neat.
We hopped a train and went all the way across town to Tower Hill. We walked around the Tower of London but didn't go in because we had a bit of a time crunch. We did go up Tower Bridge though, there's a great little museum at the top and we both agreed it was really interesting.
After the bridge, we walked along the South Bank. We visited a cathedral where Shakespeare was  supposed to have attended. There was a little monument for him and a beautiful stained glass in I his honour. We also visited the re-built Globe Theatre.
We walked back to the Embankment over the Wobbly Bridge and stopped in the corporate part of London for Indian food for dinner then continued back to Tower Hill station for a Jack the Ripper Tour. The tour was a 2 hour walk through East London and White Chapel. We visited actual murder sites, walked past and through markets and buildings that were around in 1888, and learned a lot about the victims and theories of who the Ripper was. It was so much fun! Very creepy.

Things I ate:
     - Full English Breakfast: baked beans, grilled tomato, sausages, bacon, eggs, and toast
     - spring onion and cheeses sandwich with fresh strawberries
     - butter chicken

Highlight of the day:
     - Jack the Ripper tour, so much fun walking through history

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Day the Fifth

Matt tells me that the pictures I've tried loading haven't been working so I'm going to stop trying that... If anyone can see them, please let me know.

Today was the big tour day. Gordon let me pick out a tour of Stonehenge for him to boom so I picked one by Evan Evan's Tours that went to Windsor Castle, Oxford, and then to the inner circle of Stonhenge after it was closed for the evening.
And that's it.

Windsor was first, we had about an hour and a half to explore the castle. It was incredibly busy, damn tourists, so we had to skip a lot of exhibits that had exceptionally long ques. We did see the chapel though, which was the highlight of castle, I'd say. That's where Victoria and Albert are buried, along with Henry VIII and several other important people of the monarcy.
Next, Oxford. We started with a tour of Christ Church,e oldest college on the campus and home to the Great Hall from Harry Potter. Oxford was beautiful but our tour was very tightly scheduled so we didn't have much time to look around.
Finally, we were off to Stonehenge. Gordon and I were in group 2 so we had about 30 minutes to walk around the outside and then got to go into the circle. From the outside, Stonehenge is pretty impressive but I think it was smaller than I had anticipated. From the inside though, it was huge. We got to walk in and out of the pillars, it was incredible. A definite must do and well worth the money if you find yourself with a full day in London.

Things I ate...
     - nothing of great consequence, mostly just sandwiches on the bus
Highlight of the day....
     - the inner circle, obviously

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Day the Fourth

Today was a very exciting day with a very early start. We left London bright and early to take the train to Hastings and then Battle, famous for 1066 and the Battle of Hastings. Before I was even interested in history I knew this as the most important date in history, thanks to my parents who were there when it happened, because it is when the Normans conquered Britain with the aptly names, William the Conqueror.

Gordon has never been to Hastings before so we really had no idea what to expect. Hastings is a shore town on the English Channel. When we arrived it was raining and, being Sunday, everything was closed until noon. We wandered around a bit and came across a few churches dating from the 14th century. They were very cool, one of them had a large mural painted above the alter that dated back near the building of the church, very, very cool. We visited a collection of small museums that opened up in the afternoon. One for the history of Hastings, one of Fishermen, and one of Shipwrecks.

The rain stopped in time to head to Battle. At Battle, named quite literally after the Battle of Hastings, we visited the battleground and Battle Abby. The battleground was interesting but was essentially a hill, some trees, and a field, pretty standard stuff. The Abby was a lot cooler, it was built by Will the Conq. to commemorate the battle and honour the dead at Hastings so it's only about 950ish years old. No big deal.

Most importantly though, we were in Battle for their annual Scarecrow Festival.
We returned to Hastings after Battle and climbed the hill to castle only to find that it had closed 15 minutes earlier. The view was great though so we enjoyed some ocean breeze and 99s.

Things I ate:
     - pain au chocolat and tea on the train for breakfast
     - bacon, potato, onion, and cheese tart with carrot cake for dessert
     - 99 (like the vanilla part of a Saddledome malt, it comes with a flakey chocolate piece)
     - Dutch pancakes for dinner

Highlight of the day:
     - how much we both enjoyed Hastings, it was a pleasant surprise and I would recommend that everyone visit

Day the Third

I forgot to include a highlight of the day for yesterday so here it is:
     - omg like all the history

Richard Day!!!
Richard is one of my very best friends, for unknown reasons, who is teaching in Portsmouth right now.

Gordon and I collected my Kanadian Komrade at the tube this morning and continued to Puertobello Market. It was so busy! Literally every human in London was there, or close to it. At one end of it we visited a real live Banksy mural. It really stuck it to the man and was covered with fibreglass so as not to be vandalized. Ironic?

Next up, train to Arsenal to visit Emirates Stadium and have an Arsenal tour. Matt is a big time Arsenal fan so this was done mostly because of mine and Richard's mutual love for Matt and sports. It was very cool. We got to go into the home and away dressing rooms, I sat on a bench that has been graced with the presence of the behinds of Messi, Ronaldo, Rooney, and some other guys who are just ok at soccer.... Sorry, football. We walked through the tunnel which was unbelievably exciting for me and got to stand on the home bench which is really close to the grass, but not actually the grass. You can't touch the pitch, it's basically holy land.

We went to a dive across the street for lunch, visited the Arsenal gift shop, and then went down towards the Embankment to visit the eye. On the way we stopped at the National Portrait Gallery to see the Tudor collection, famous for being featured in every history text book ever. Just Richard and I went on the London Eye as Gordon had been on it a few weeks ago with Graham. It was lots of fun and the views were incredible!

It was great to see Richard again and really wonderful to share such a full day with him.

Things I ate:
     - Hotel breakfast... Toast and stuff
     - Cod, chips, and peas for lunch
     - "The Londoner" pizza with bacon, cherry tomatos, potatoes, mushrooms, and chicken
Highlight of the day:
     - Walking through the player tunnel!
     - seeing Shakespeare's portrait, yeah, that portrait.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Day the Second

Today was a little easier than yesterday and I attribute it entirely to my not very fashionable choice in footwear.
It was another sunny one in London. Blistering hot temperatures (literally, just ask my feet), but they're supposed to end tomorrow and I'll finally experience some of this rain I've heard so much about.
We started our day by meeting John for breakfast and then accompanying him back to his flat. He zips around the streets on a little scooter that he calls his Harley Davidson. Josh has lived in this part of London his entire life. He is so interesting to talk to because he's lived through so much and all in one borough.
Afterwards, Gordon and I took the tube to Baker Street where we visited 221B, saw the lineup for the Sherlock Holmes museum and opted to visit the gift shop instead. We continued to Picadilly Circus where Gordon's friend, Mike, joined us and went to find lunch at Pret a Manger. Now, the thing about Pret a Manger is, it's amazing. They serve sandwiches and drinks and salad and the like but it's all very good, very fresh, and very fast. I would kill to have one in Calgary.

After lunch, we went to the British Library which blew my little historian mind. I saw the Magna Carta! And John Lennon's handwritten draft of Yesterday! And Jane Austen's writing desk! And an original Guttenberg Bible! And Da Vinci's notes! And Chopin and Stravinsky's score writing! And Skaespeare's reading notes written throughout the Canterbury Tales! Seriously unreal.
But wait! There's more! Next was the British Museum! I saw the Rosetta Stone in person, Cleopatra's mummy and sarcophagus, the marbles from the Parthenon, Sumerian treasures like the Goat in the Thicket, and so, so, so much more.

We took the bus back to our area tonight and Gordon managed to score us the front seats on the top deck twice. It was very exciting!

Tomorrow is a big day with Richard! So now I'm going to try to sleep through the Fourth of July fireworks. Apparently England also likes to celebrate its separation from America....

Things I ate:
     - Eggs Benedict for breakfast
     - Avocado and bacon sandwich for lunch
     - Tea and scones at the museum
     - Pad Thai with prawns for dinner.

Day the First

I landed in London at 10:30, half an hour late and after several tight circles in the air while we waited in the que to land at Heathrow. That was fun.
The excitement continued with another 30 minute wait in line at customs and an agent who didn't seem to believe that I had the occupation of teacher. Woo!
The party came to a close while I waited another half an hour for my pack to arrive while the locals bitched about all the immigrants slowing things down at Heathrow.
Near where I'm staying in Notting-hill 
Things got much better on the other side of arrivals. I met up with Gordon right away as he met me there. We took the tube (!!!!!!!!) to Notting-hill where we stopped by John's place. John is who Gordon stays with while in London, he is 82 and full of amazing stories, including surviving the air strikes during WWII. John made us tea and a quick snack and then we were off walking.
We explored London from about 1-6 as this was the only way to keep me awake. We went through Hyde Park, visited the war memorials, went to Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abby and Castle ruins, saw Big Ben and Parliament, and went through Trafalger Square. To end the day we met up with two of Gordon's friends, David and Nilesh, for dinner at a boutique Swedish restaurant.
The day was busy, long, and so very hot. Too hot for Canadians.

Things I ate:
     - Aged cheddar and pickle sandwich, pork pies, and custard tart at John's
     - Swedish meatballs with gravy, mashed potatoes, and lingonberry for dinner. Yum!
Highlight of the day:
     - Seeing Gordon after my Heathrow adventure
     - That time I looked over my left shoulder to see Big Ben and the London Eye directly behind me