Sunday, October 17, 2010

My Europe Trip- Part 2, May 5th-12th, 2010


On Wednesday we moved on to Paris, and after checking into our hostel, Le Village (where we had a private room that night, which was marvelous!), we explored our neighbourhood, Montmartre. We saw Sacre Coeur, Au Lapine Agile Cabaret, which is where Picaso used to hang out, had wine and cappuccino at a cute cafe, then Kaiti and I raced up some stairs- I won, but stepped in dog poop, learning that there are no poop scoop laws in Paris, gross. Then we walked around the area some more, I got a banana and nutella crepe, which was super delicious and we got a nice view of Sacre Coeur at night. There is also an amazing view of Paris from Sacre Coeur, which is gorgeous at night, and gave us our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately at this point in the trip I was starting to get a bit of a cold, and my second pair of flip flops died in Munich to be replaced by an uber shitty pair from an "Accessorize" store in the train station that were wrecking my feet. I would have killed for vegan Birkenstocks at that point, and yes, I see the irony.


On Thursday we walked around for awhile and saw a very interesting mix of businesses. We were near the Moulin Rouge (which was really cool... redeeming itself from the terrrrrible movie), so it was basically the "sex" district. There were very nice and expensive looking cafes and bars right next to sex shops. We also saw a sex museum with a very interesting chair in the window... there was a hole in the seat, and a rotating tongue mechanism... a couple of police officers laughed at us while we were discussing it.

Then we met with Amber, a friend from McMaster who is living in England and came to visit us in Paris. We had a lovely French lunch (my meal was just cheese in a baguette- very French, and delicious), and then went to Musee d'Orsay. It's an amazing museum converted from an old train station, but my cold was getting worse, so I only saw about half the pieces because I was wiped out. They had a crime and punishment exhibit that was really cool and creepy, featuring a good mix of fictional works as well as historical depictions and photographs, ending with a disturbing piece by David Lynch. My mom was upset to find out that I didn't actually go in the Louvre (I saw the outside on the walking tour!), but I think this smaller museum was perfect for me, as I'm not exactly an art buff.

Next we stopped at the Shakespeare and Company Bookstore. I felt that I needed to buy something from such an amazing bookstore, so I bought Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point... which I have yet to read. (*Edit: I finally read the book in February, 2011. I highly recommend it*). Then we bought a bottle of wine to drink on the River Seine. Well... Hayley and Amber drank the wine, Kaiti and I copped out with tea, but it was still lovely. As we were sitting and enjoying the nice Parisian evening, two young Frenchmen approached us and we chatted with them for awhile. I was worried they would push one of us in the river or rob us, but luckily they were nice guys. I won a thumb war, and we were taught some dance moves, then they went on their way. After we said goodbye to Amber, we returned to the hostel and chatted with a young fellow traveler from Winnipeg on the terrace (from which we could see Sacre Coeur). She's only 18, traveling by herself, with a fiddle, and speaks fluent French. She's my hero.

On Friday Hayley and I went to the post office so that we could ship home the massive and heavy beer steins we bought in Munich, and I (finally) mailed the post cards I bought in Berlin, Munich, and Paris. Then Kaiti and I did the New Europe walking tour, while Hayley went to Musee de Cluny, France's middle ages museum. The walking tour took us to Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris; a statue of King Henry IV, and our tour guide told us about his assassination, and the horrible way the assassin was killed by the people because of how much they loved Henry; L'Académie française, where they preserve the sanctity of the French language by making up new words (like ordinateur, because computer was too non-French) and determining the gender of things (such as iPods, which are male, by the way); outside the Louvre; Jardin des Tuileries; and Champs d'Elysses.


Then, as Kaiti and I were trying to figure out how to get back to the hostel on the subway, a drunk man approached and started talking to us. He seemed harmless at first, but became rather scary. We put our tickets in and went through the turnstiles to get away from him, but he pushed his way through with Kaiti, kicking her in the process. A security guard saw what happened, and came over to yell at Kaiti for letting him through without paying!! We told her the situation, and said that the man was harassing us, but she did nothing about it. She didn't even kick him out for not paying!! Luckily he sauntered off in the other direction when we went to get on the subway. When we got back to the hostel we met up with Hayley, ate dinner and then stumbled on an impromptu jam session on the terrace with the awesome Winnipegger and another traveler.

Then we went to a restaurant near the Eiffel Tower that Hayley's Dad recommended for drinks and dessert (I had a poached pear, covered in chocolate, so delicious!), then we went to the Eiffel Tower, which was just as wonderful as I had imagined- though mighty chilly and windy on the second level observation deck.

On Saturday we went to Père Lachaise Cemetery, and I cursed cobble stones: although they look charming, they were hell on my sore feet. Then we went shopping around the 1er Arrondissement area on the Rue de Rivoli, we bought some lovely clothes, and I finally bought some comfortable flip flops.

Then we went on a pub crawl- which was not of the same calibre as the other ones we had been on so far. There were far too many people, mostly Canadians, and the crawl consisted of bars not unlike any bars in Toronto. So it basically felt like a night out at home, not exactly what we wanted. My raging cold took over and I left after the 2nd bar, but Kaiti and Hayley had a good night.

On Sunday we said goodbye to the lovely Paris and ventured to the beautiful Bruges! Our hostel, Snuffel, was very nice, and we shared a 4-bed room with a socially awkward American man with one hand. He was a really nice guy, but I couldn't help thinking that if our trip was a horror movie, he would be the red herring suspect, and the killer would really be one of us! Dun dun dunnnnn!

Our Belgian buddy Matthias took us to a park and we had a cold but wonderful picnic by the river. We fed (and chased) ducks, ate like kings (seriously, Matty brought so much delicious food! Box of wine, home made dip, plenty of vegetarian things, and totally nut free! Lucky us!!), and took in the gorgeous scenery and sunset. Then we walked around a carnival, went out to a couple of bars and tried some of Belgium's wonderful beers (which come with cheese and spicy mustard).

Monday was delicious and gorgeous! We walked around Bruges doing a little shopping; went to the chocolate museum where we learned the history of chocolate, sampled some freshly made goodies, and saw Choc-Obama; and then took a boat cruise. There were so many swans and ducks, and our friends now think Canadians are obsessed with birds. Our other Belgian friend Thibault took Hayley and I to a take-out restaurant that is famous for its (vegetarian) fries, and I was officially converted to mayo on fries when I tried their homemade mayo. The lady there was so nice, she translated the whole menu for us! We took our fries and had another lovely picnic by an old windmill, and then walked back to the hostel through the "slums" of Bruges- which made south Oshawa look like a third world shanty town.

At night we hung out with some fellow Canadians from our hostel, and then, box of wine in hand, ventured to the buffalo bridge (dedicated to Canadian veterans) where we cheers-ed to Canada's liberation of Bruges in WWII. We walked by a little canal-side park, full of ducks and swans. The swans were nesting there, and we even saw some unattended swan eggs. We were a little terrified. Except Thibault, who ran right up to a swan. It squawked and fanned its feathers at us, so we ran away a little. We went to a bar and drank more Belgian beer, and then explored Thibault's grandma's 17th century house that he is renovating. The house was incredibly cool. Very 70s-fresh with wallpaper on the ceilings, but also charming, with just enough creepiness in the basement and attic.

Amsterdam (The conclusion)
On Tuesday Hayley and I said goodbye to our friends and my new favourite small town, and journeyed to Amsterdam, our final stop on the trip. Kaiti stayed in Bruges for an extra night because there were a few more things she wanted to see there, and not so much she wanted to do in Amsterdam.

At this point, traveling became so familiar for me that I didn't take very many pictures (and there was a garbage strike in Amsterdam this time around, so it wasn't as gorgeous as when we landed in April). But Amsterdam was a blast! On Tuesday Hayley and I settled into our hostel, The Flying Pig Downtown (which had kitties!), and saw the red light district on a rainy New Europe tour. One very interesting part of the tour was a store called the "Condomerie," which sells custom sized condoms as well as hilarious novelty condoms. We never got the timing right and they were always closed when we were in the area, so no one got awesome animal or Darth Vader condoms as a souvenir. Sorry friends. The tour ended at a bar called the Winston Kingdom, where we hung out with a new friend, an American named Ben. Then we went to a coffee shop, and... chilled out for the night.

On Wednesday Hayley and I did some shopping, and then walked to Anne Frank House. The walk was very lovely (minus all the garbage), and we only got a little bit lost. Amsterdam is pretty easy to navigate because of the canals running through, and the tourist area isn't terribly big so we could walk to most places from the hostel. The Anne Frank House was amazing, inspiring, and terribly sad all at once. When I think about it now, I'm left inspired by Anne's overall hope despite her situation.

When we got back to the hostel, Kaiti had just arrived, so after getting settled we met up with Ben and went out for dinner. The restaurant we chose seemed really funky and awesome. It was very colourful with unique furniture, a bar cat, live music, and a decent menu. However, despite pleasing aesthetics, it was a very poor choice, because we were incredibly hungry and our food took over an hour. They don't tip in Amsterdam, so apparently (at least at that place) they don't care about quality of service. After we were (finally!!!!) fed, we went to the Winston Kingdom for a Flatliners' concert. When we got there we got awesome Malibu cowboy hats, which we wore all night, even though we were made fun of by the coat check guy. Unfortunately, as we found in many other places on our trip, the bar allowed smoking inside, so it was FULL of smoke and thus hard to breathe, but we mostly got used to it. Kaiti wasn't feeling well so she went back to the hostel early.

The opening bands were not bad, and the Flatliners were great! It was very nice at that point in the trip to see a Toronto band, while surrounded by people who didn't speak English. Kind of refreshing and humbling at the same time. I spent the whole show in the mosh pit, which is something I hadn't done in ages, and I had an absolute blast! When the show was over, we left the Winston Kingdom to find a coffee shop. As we stumbled out onto the street, we ran into a fellow stumbler. He was asking us how to get back to his hostel, but there was a communication barrier. He spoke English, but was deaf. He could read lips, and carried a note pad to help with any miscommunications. He was also on mushrooms and absolutely hilarious. He accompanied us to the coffee shop, and I had an awesome time getting to know him, while Hayley further acquainted herself with Ben. In the end, we accidentally pointed our new friend Chase in the wrong direction (which we found out when we passed his hostel on our way home), but learned later that he made it back safely. Overall, one of the best/most randomly awesome nights of my life.

Thursday was our last day of the trip. We took a tram to the Van Gogh museum, which was really great, and explored that area of Amsterdam a little. We took the standard touristy pictures in front of "I amsterdam," and bought some souvenirs, then took a tram to do some more shopping (no wonder I spent so much money on the trip!) Next, we went to the Sex Museum, which had a lot of robotic mannequins participating in lewd acts. Upon entering the museum, we were flashed by a particularly creepy mannequin man.

Then we met up with Ben for our last European dinner at an Irish pub (which was carefully pre-selected as being vegetarian and allergy friendly). Then we went to a very cute bar where we had the "attic" to ourselves, and drank really good beer (Kaiti was pleased that they served screw drivers). The walls in our booth were covered in "art" on coasters, so of course we made our own coaster art to leave our mark on Amsterdam. 

Then we tried to find a coffee shop, but none were open (they all close at about midnight). So we ventured back to the hostel, skipping and boisterously singing Spirit of the West's "Home For A Rest" (which Ben had never heard of.... pfffft, Americans). The others went to bed (since us gals had a very long flight ahead of us the next day), but I soaked up the last few hours of Europe Trip 2010 glory by hanging out in the Flying Pig's lounge. I didn't take any pictures of the lounge, but I found this one on their website:

The area on the right is a completely pillowed sitting area, and it says no sleeping, but I found out that people commonly do. It was very comfy, so I can see why. I chatted with some fellow travelers, and shared the last of my Amsterdam fun with them. It was a lovely way to end the trip.

Friday was completely bittersweet. I missed Tyson (my boyfriend) and Penny Lane (my cat) like CRAZY, and was pretty worn out, so I couldn't wait to get home. But I also had the time of my life on the trip, so I was sad that it had to come to an end. We were hoping to get some duty-free booze at the airport, but there was an issue with the flight being overbooked, so we had to check in right away to help ensure we could actually get on the flight. At Schipol Airport, you go through security before entering the boarding gate, so once you're in you can't walk around or shop (or use the bathroom!!!!), so we were there awhile. We got on the flight fine, but sat nowhere near each other. It was a pretty good flight, same good food ("delicious meal" indeed), but no crying babies or obnoxious drunk people this time. I really enjoyed flying over the east coast and Ontario, because it was during the day this time (and I had the window seat), so I could actually see it.

I got a ride home with Hayley's parents, and was greeted by Tyson with a big hug, flowers and my first home (re: not hostel- even though they had kitchens, nary was a full substantial meal made) cooked meal in weeks. It was very lovely, and I struggled to stay up past 10pm. Jet lag was a bitch.

Auf Wiedersehen, na shledanou, au revoir, tot ziens, goeiedag, good bye Europe!!! It was an amazing journey, and I can't wait to do it again!