A Travellerspoint blog

Paris - City of Lights?

or, "Buying Bison Shawty at the Train Station"

Wednesday was a train day. Coming in to the trip, I don’t think we anticipated the trouble with trains. The first few days went swimmingly. Hop on a train (which always seemed to be simply waiting for us at the station), flash the Eurail pass at the conductor if he came by, and wake up just in time to get off the train (train rides inevitably put all three of us to sleep regardless of how short they are or what time of day it is).

Today proved itself to be the exception. Trains are infuriating. You’d think that since there is a train line direct from Amsterdam to Paris, we could ride it, right? No. No no no. Oh, there is a mandatory reservation for seats? You can’t do it online? Even though we waited in line for 40 minutes to talk to a service agent, we can’t reserve it here at the station either? But we can do it on Friday? And the eurail pass doesn’t cover that? Oh, alright, yes, thanks.

UGH. Rough day. Lots of trains. Since we cannot take the high speed direct trains, we had to scramble together a series of short connections (four in all today). Which was capped off by 2 hour wait at the station right before Paris, sitting on the tracks, because of a fire on the tracks. Though, given our lack of French language skills, the situation mostly consisted of guessing by other people’s expressions what the announcements might be saying. Ay ay ay.

Luckily, along the way, we had some pleasant stops in various French towns that let us get out and stretch our legs.

Lille
Paris_002.jpg

Amiens
Paris_006.jpg

After more than 12 hours of travel, we finally made it – we triumphantly pulled in to Paris Nord, excited to be in the city of lights!

We stepped out of the train station, breathing in the Paris night air, fresh with the scent of … urine. Paris reeks. Seriously. Every ten strides or so, you get a strong whiff of stale urine. Disgusting. And of course, it just happens that both the train station and our hostel are in a terrifying part of the city. I won’t go in to too much detail (to spare our dear parents), but it was the creepiest, most shady experience of the trip. The hostel man was incredibly rude (with broken English, telling us that it was OUR fault that the train was late due to fire!), there was one shower shared among at least 50 people, and the security system to get in to your room (per the hostel man’s instructions) involved knocking on the door until one of the other (sleeping) occupants got up to let you in. The system was invoked by several newcomers after we were already there and asleep (despite the fact that all five of the beds – one being a COT – were already occupied).

We slept with our valuables inside our sleeping bags. If there had been anywhere else available in Paris, we would have moved. Ahhh! We woke up at 6 am so we could get out of there as fast as possible.

In contrast to the failures of the previous evening, our day in Paris was quite lovely. Since all the other Paris hostels were booked, we found a small (expensive!) room in a hotel in a nicer part of the city which was so much better than our horror-movie-terrifying hostel from the night before.

With the sun beaming down strongly, we grabbed our metro tickets and set out to see the sights. First stop was the Notre Dame Cathedral. All throughout the trip so far, we’ve seemed to have a lot of luck with attractions like this, and so it continued today. Just as we walked up, they opened up one of the large cathedral doors for free access! We got in right at the front of the line, and in no time flat, we were gazing upwards in awe at the gargantuan arches and stained glass windows. And the most wild part was to think that this was all constructed hundreds and hundreds of years ago! If you’ve never read “Pillars of the Earth”, give it a shot – it talks all about how these grand cathedrals were built.

Paris_035.jpg

Paris_026.jpg

Paris_039.jpg

After finishing at Notre Dame, we started the trek to see the Eiffel Tower – yay! With such a nice day on our hands (especially after several very chilly days in Brugge and Amsterdam), we decided to run to a market and get food for a picnic. Baguettes and cheese – how French! Eating outside on the grass beneath the Eiffel Tower did much to make up for the previous day. What a lovely afternoon!

Paris_056.jpg

Paris_045.jpg

Paris_103.jpg

Paris_121.jpg

As promised at the beginning of the trip, we kept up our tradition of catching some time for Frisbee in every place we stop.

Paris_116.jpg

Paris_frisbee.jpg

If there’s one thing to say about the Eiffel Tower, it is that (for me at least) it was much bigger than I ever would have expected from photos. Just the arch portion at the base is a gargantuan structure. I would have hung out there all day if we had more time, but since we wanted to catch the Arc de Triomphe before making the long walk home, we headed out again!

The traffic circle (I’m not sure if you can call something of this scale a “roundabout”) was terrifying. Six lanes or more of cars making seemingly patternless movements around this great monument – I was scared to even cross the street! Fortunately for us, there was an underground tunnel to get to the Arc.

Paris_141.jpg

Paris_148.jpg

Exhausted from walking and from travel, we concluded our day in Paris back at the hotel by all falling suddenly and unexpectedly asleep for several hours. We’ll see the rest of Paris when we return in June!

Posted by ChelseaLeBlanc 14:00 Archived in France Tagged paris Comments (0)

Amsterdamn

or, "Do they make these buildings crooked on purpose?"

Lindsay writes,

After a weekend in Bruges (probably our favorite place yet!) we got up early, and packed up to leave for Amsterdam. We are definitely getting better at the whole train thing, but somehow, we always end up rushing to the train station. Literally running in this case, down the streets of Bruges, weaving between cyclists and pedestrians. Something we also need to remember is to get the directions to our hostel from the train station. We ended up without internet and without an address for our hostel when we arrived in Amsterdam. Excellent. However, a friendly local showed us where we needed to go on the map.

As we started getting closer to the location of our hostel as shown on the map, we noticed things getting a bit … seedy. Unbeknownst to us, our hostel was located practically inside the red light district. Oh my. So, after walking past sex shops, sex shows, sex museums even, we settled into home sweet home. Never thought we’d say that!

After unpacking and meeting the other guys in our room (from Canada, eh?) we charged back into the madness of Amsterdam towards the Flying Pig, where we met up with our friends, Chelsea and Cassie, from London!

Amsterdam_014.jpg

Walking through the city, the first thing we noticed was that everything looked a bit … strange. Not because of the wild abundance of sex shops and coffee shops (though that was strange also). No, Amsterdam was crooked. Literally crooked. The buildings lean helter skelter. Doors don’t line up with windows. The buildings facing the canal appear to lean ominously forward. More on this later.

Amsterdam_086.jpg

Naturally, the first event on the itinerary for the night was to get some food!! While walking from the train station, we saw a ton of shops that sold Döner Kabobs. Now this may not seem like a huge deal, but Chelsea has been raving for the whole trip about Döner Kabobs. She had them on a recent trip to Spain and has been craving them ever since. Unfortunately, these Kabobs were not up to par with the ones from Spain. (We will keep you posted on how tasty they are when we make it to Spain)

Amsterdam_006.jpg

After satisfying our stomachs, the group decided that checking out the red light district while it was still light and we were all together might be a better idea than wandering there late at night. Even though it was what I expected, it was still very surprising to have girls standing half naked (who am I kidding, it was more than half naked) in a window as you stroll by on the street. We found out later during our stay in Amsterdam a little more about the prostitution laws and what a girl has to do to get in one of those windows. Pretty interesting stuff if you ask me. Some other shocking/interesting sights in the red light district included hustlers for live sex shows, special condom decorations, and everything in between. Not something you see every day in Michigan that’s for sure.

Amsterdam was definitely a change of pace for us after spending a decent amount of time in Brugge. It was not the cobblestoned, quaint city we had grown to love, but I can safely say that we all enjoyed getting to know the city. On the morning of day two, we joined a walking tour, which was a great way to get to know the city. While we didn’t stay for the whole three hours (seriously – three hour walking tours??), we still learned a lot about the city and its history.

Amsterdam_026.jpg

On our walking tour we found out that some of the lean in the buildings is intentional while some of it is not. The buildings in Amsterdam were built to lean forward because their buildings are so tall and narrow, and builders wanted to provide more canal-front real estate. To move large furniture up the steep stairways would be very dangerous. At the time, their solution was to put a hook at the top of their houses and hoist the furniture up. Now the only problem is that if there was a huge breeze when you were moving a couch, it would start to swing and break windows on your house, not cool. The houses in Amsterdam were not only leaning forward, they looked like they were sinking into the ground. Our tour guide informed us that that was exactly what was happening. “Free” walking tours are the best!

Amsterdam_106.jpg

After we bailed on our tour and ate some authentic Amsterdam/Chinese cuisine we were off to the Van Gogh Museum! It was a very long walk down to the south side of town, but on the way there we had an excellent view of the canal system. If you have never been to Amsterdam, you should look at a map of the central area at least. There are canals every other street! It makes for some pretty nice pictures, but also makes it impossible to distinguish one intersection from another. The Van Gogh museum had a huge portion of his original works, but also kept many other artists’ pieces on display as a representation of the kind of work his friends and contemporaries were doing. After leaving, we also found the “I Amsterdam” sign down on the south side of town. Photo op for the win!

Amsterdam_099.jpg

Amsterdam_100.jpg

Continuing on in our Amsterdam journey we walked to the Anne Frank house. (This is also where we said goodbye to our new friend Chelsea :( ) The Anne Frank house was incredible. I was able to walk through the exact space where Anne Frank and 7 others lived in hiding for around 2 years. Two of the most incredible things for me were first, they saved the pencil marks on the wall marking how much Anne and her sister grew over the two years. Second, the pictures that Anne posted on her “bedroom” wall were mostly still intact. It was an unforgettable experience, especially after reading her diary in school.

We all had enough walking at this point and we decided to have a nice night chillin in the hostel. Fortunately, we were able to find a local supermarket, and we FINALLY figured out how to do bargain shopping the right way. We picked up a big wheel of cheese, some salami, vegetables, and crackers (and an assortment of proper dutch beers of course) and went back to the hostel to just sit. It feels weird, being in Europe, and wanting nothing more than to sit down, eat, and watch some TV. But it is a fact of travel – you can’t go go go every single day. Just like home, you need to just sit around sometimes. So we did. We spent a very pleasant evening with our dinner from the market, watching some episodes of Modern Family on Nick’s netbook, and chatting with our roommates from Canada (who offered some very useful tips on apple farming!) It was the perfect way to end our stay in Amsterdam before our long travel to France.

Amsterdam_108.jpg

Amsterdam_115.jpg

Posted by ChelseaLeBlanc 13:49 Archived in Netherlands Tagged amsterdam Comments (0)

"Miracles happen every day"

Birthday, Beer, Brugge!

Chelsea writes,

We arrived in Brugge Friday morning in a state of semi-conscious exhaustion. After traveling by bus, train, ferry, and foot for approximately 20 hours, all three of us were bleary eyed and sluggish.

Brugge_008.jpg

But the trek through the city (more of a town really – as you’ll see, Brugge has none of that big city feel) woke us up enough to realize how lucky we were to be there. Even at first sight, Brugge was FANTASTIC. Not a modern building to be seen, every street was paved in cobblestones and every store front stood quaint and lovely. Something out of a European dream.

Brugge_077.jpg

Brugge_076.jpg

We checked in at the Snuffel hostel early, and our bedraggled appearance must have belied how exhausted we were since the owner offered to have our room cleaned and prepared immediately so we could fall into bed as quickly as possible. Wonderful! I can’t express how much we loved this place. The downstairs was a funky bar frequented by locals and tourists alike. Great music, great beer! Snuffel really became home over the several days we spent in Brugge.

Brugge_last_Nick_001.jpg

Brugge_last_Nick_002.jpg

Brugge_last_Nick_003.jpg

After waking up, we found out that Noah and his dad were in town too (amazing how small Europe can seem!), so we met up with them in the massive central square of the town, grabbed some food, and made plans for the night. Back at Snuffel, we hung out downstairs for a while tasting various Belgian beers and met some fellow hostelers, Noah (a new Noah, not our Noah… we’ll call him Noah2) and America. All rested and fed, we headed out to check out some of the local bars. Brugge has such a variety of night stops! We checked out everything from Klein Nachtmusik, (a dim and quiet bar with a very oldtimer feel) to some of the pubs near the main square that were literally packed wall to wall, smoke thick in the air and lights flashing to the pounding music. Great evening!

Brugge_014.jpg

Brugge_049.jpg

In the morning, we heard there was a free walking tour of the town, so together with Noah2 and America, we gathered to check it out. As it turns out, that was a decision that changed the rest of our trip in Brugge. The tour was led by a guy named Kai who was originally from New York but moved to Brugge a few years back, and has since settled in to life there. He speaks a ton of different languages, and with his trademark grey hat, gave us a sassy tour of the city. Very cool. Afterwards, he invited us to meet up with him and some friends later on to check out some more Belgian bars.

Brugge_074.jpg

Brugge_108.jpg

Brugge_133.jpg

In the interim, we explored more of the town and got wonderfully lost in the twisting cobbled streets. And then, from afar, we heard a faint pounding. Turning a corner, we saw a parade marching down the street, right at us! A group of young drummers headed up a long train of children dressed in brightly colored costumes, and as they passed us, we joined in for the march! How we find ourselves in these situations, I’m not quite sure. Nonetheless, we marched along, dancing and laughing in this impromptu parade down the sunny streets of Brugge.

Brugge_140.jpg

In the afternoon, we caught a beer tour at one of the most famous local breweries in Brugges (producer of the delicious Brugges Zot – translating literally to “Brugge’s crazy guy”). Afterwards, on a recommendation, we all walked across town to the very hidden De Garre bar (in the smallest alley in Brugge) for another of Belgium’s most well known beers – the De Garre, of course. So I suppose if you haven’t noticed yet, the theme of Brugge is beer. The Belgians pride themselves on their beers, and if you’re going to be there for any length of time, you’d best know your beers well! They even have a special glass for every beer, and serving a beer in the incorrect glass is practically unthinkable. Love it.

Brugge_Gerst_068.jpg

Brugge_Gerst_087.jpg

Brugge_Gerst_090.jpg

Brugge_Gerst_096.jpg

We met up with Kai again later that evening to see more of the town, and he showed us around to more of his favorite pubs, including an awesome underground bar that was very posh – never would have found that on our own! In conversation, it turned out that Kai was a big fan of Ultimate Frisbee too, and that he had planned a game with some of his friends from the area on Sunday, and invited us to join. Score! Exhausted once again (I really don’t anticipate that we will ever get enough sleep on this trip – sleeping seems like such a waste when you could be out seeing Europe!) we found a discount hotel room that we split with Noah2.

We woke in time to grab some delicious Belgian waffles from a small shop (even the dough is mouthwateringly sweet and delicious!) which we ate outside on our favorite culinary street and then, parting ways with Noah2, walked over to the east side of town to meet up with Kai at the windmills for the ultimate game. What a fantastic afternoon. We met the ultimate crew (a fantastic assortment of people from all over – Belgium, Holland, Britain, etc, etc) and spent a happy sunny afternoon throwing the disc around and of course, sharing some Bruges Zot. As it turned out, one of the guys, Alex, owned a bar in town that he and his father were renovating. Since they would be closed for the upcoming four weeks to complete that work, they needed help finishing off the beers they had on tap. We hastily volunteered for the job.

Brugge_last_day_004.jpg

Brugge_last_day_010.jpg

Great evening – having the bar all to ourselves (and knowing the bartender) has its advantages. We chatted it up with everyone for a while, and then they showed us how to play “Belgian beer pong” right down the main aisle of the bar. Main difference from American beer pong? Replace red plastic cups with specially crafted glass Belgian beer glasses. Much classier. And there is a stool involved. But otherwise, same concept. We teamed up guys versus girls, but the girls were soundly defeated. However, the other girl that we played with, Christa, turned out to be really cool. Originally from Holland, she had moved to Brugge on her own when she was 18, and now works in one of the oh-so fashionable shops in the center of town. She even invited us to visit her at the shop in the morning to chat and take advantage of her 50% off discount on clothes (which, or course, we took her up on!)

Brugge_last_day_021.jpg

Brugge_last_day_030.jpg

We hung around for most of the evening, and at midnight I got a big surprise. The lights in the bar dimmed, and everyone started singing Happy Birthday as they brought out a tiramisu with candles. Nick and Gerst had even got a birthday card and got everyone to sign it too – so awesome! I can’t think of a better way to spend the first few hours of my birthday than with new friends or a better place to spend it than Bruges. We tumbled happily back home to Snuffel and slept soundly for our final night in Belgium.

Brugge_last_day_028.jpg

Brugge_last_day_036.jpg

Posted by ChelseaLeBlanc 16:40 Archived in Belgium Tagged brugge Comments (0)

No Sleep, No Problem

More UK Shenanigans

Nick writes,

After a breakneck start to our trip, we finally had a day that was a bit more relaxing. We arrived in Bath around 11:40pm on Wednesday, May 11, and tried to make our way to St. Christopher’s hostel. No surprise, but despite Bath being a fairly small town, we found ourselves lost pretty quickly (with no thanks to a local policeman who was zero help with directions). Luckily enough, a group of 6 college students who go to University in Bath noticed us staring at maps with our big backpacks on, and asked us if we needed any directions. These kids were about our age and very cheerful and happy to show us the way to the hostel, and we had some good conversation with them on the way. The whole group was so thoroughly British, from their jaunty walks to the attitudes and inflections – great fun.

The hostel we stayed at was directly above a bar – that’s right, a bar. The bar area had a very cool atmosphere and the receptionist was very kind to us. We found our way up to through the hostel (after climbing flight after flight of tight, winding staircases!) into the common room in the very peak of the tall building. And of course, directly out the window was a stunning and very very old abbey. Oh Europe, how good you are to us.

IMG_0779.jpg

IMG_0780.jpg

We were also very happy to discover that the room had free internet! This allowed us to plan our next day or so. Unfortunately, planning took way longer than anticipated. We ended up booking a hostel for Paris for Friday night (and let me tell you, hostels in Paris are not the cheap $15-20 kind, think more around $30-45). We also booked a guided tour for Stonehenge, with some guidance by a fine fellow traveler from Canada who was also in the common room. We eventually got to bed late (around 2:30am), and once again got up early – 7:00am.

The next morning came way too quickly – when I woke up Chelsea she thought she was just still dreaming – it could not possibly be time to wake up again! Well, actually it was, and we quickly showered and ate the stereotypical cereal and toast breakfast provided by the hostel. Then we got to visit Bath!

IMG_0786.jpg

We sadly only had 1 hour to see the town, which was not enough AT ALL. Bath was a town that would be really cool to just meander around and duck into little shops here and there. Instead we just quickly went up and down the streets and saw a couple of major points of interest, including the Royal Crescent – a big half circle of houses where the super rich people live (houses not nearly as nice as them were around 2 million pounds in the town), and it also had a big field in front of it that we tossed the Frisbee around in for a while.

IMG_0794.jpg

IMG_0800.jpg

We also saw the ‘Circus’, which was a circle of houses enclosing an area with 5 giant trees, arranged to make them look like 1 giant super tree. We got to see the town Abbey, and also made our way to see the Pudney (spelling?) Bridge, which was a beautiful bridge over the river in the town, and close by to some beautiful gardens and gazebos.

IMG_0832.jpg

IMG_0825.jpg

All of this was accomplished in about an hour, before our Stonehenge Tour left at 10am.

One word about the countryside leading to Stonehenge (and probably all of England) – BEAUTIFUL! Rolling hills as far as you can see, and despite gloomy skies, everything still looked brilliant. We also saw some cool crops that looked like yellow flowers and a gigantic white horse carved into a hillside containing an ancient seabed of fossils (or something like that).

IMG_0834.jpg

We were surprised when we got to Stonehenge – we expected it to be in the middle of nowhere, but it was smack dab in the middle of two highways! Also, in my opinion, the rocks look a lot bigger in pictures… the whole perspective thing can be tricksy. We listened to the audio tour which was informative and took some obligatory pictures – we learned that Gerst is no good at picture taking. At the end of the day though, “Stonehenge is just a big pile of rocks”…

IMG_0863.jpg

IMG_0840.jpg

IMG_0853.jpg

So now that our tour at Stonehenge is complete, we can take the tour bus back to Bath, right? WRONNNNNG! We are too awesome of backpackers for that – we hiked 2 miles with all of our gear to Amesbury, where we would catch a bus back to London, and then catch a bus down to Paris. The hike was very fun – we felt like badasses and the countryside was beautiful and the cottages leading into Amesbury were just ever so English. We arrived to the small town and finally got a warm meal at a small diner – fish and chips to be precise. After that we began to traipse around the town and decided to stop at a small mobile phone store to use their free internet to check email and whatnot. At least that is what we thought we would do. Instead, we COMPLETELY changed our plans for the next week. So long busy Paris with the crappy hostel we booked and the poor planning we did, hellloo Brugge, Belgium! We canceled our Paris hostel, booked one in Brugge, and got all the necessary directions and Eurail train times in a manner of ~20 minutes (before our bus back to London left). We are spontaneous.

IMG_0870.jpg

IMG_0121.jpg

The bus back to London was nice – for once I was able to sleep decently well (unlike Chelsea and Gerst, go figure). We got back to London with about a 3 hour layover until our bus left to cross the English channel and arrive at the Eurail station in Calais, France, from where we would finally get to use our Eurail pass (thank God, British transportation is EXPENSIVE) to make our way to Belgium. During our 3 hours of freedom we found a Sainsbury supermarket (hooray for cheap meat and cheese sammiches) and added more names to our Beer Tour Card (essentially a list of all the beers we purchase during the trip) at a nearby pub. The pub was directly next to the bus station, and we got to the station with 10 minutes to spare – plenty of time. We stood around, noticed that the bus already had people on it, and went to go on it. Hmm, the man says we need to get a ticket and show our passport at a gate… ACH, only 5 minutes until the bus leaves!!!! We rush back into the bus station and clatter into line and get yelled at by the bus ticket clerk – apparently we were supposed to arrive 60 minutes early… yeah, kind of forgot about the whole international travel thing not being as easy as the local travel thing. After being scolded and ‘punished’ by not being able to sit next to each other, we made our way onto the bus, which didn’t leave for another 5-10 minutes. Pah. We then proceeded to make our way to Dover – the cliffs, even at 1:00 in the morning, were still a brilliant white in the night sky. The Decemberists and Andrew Bird, bands that mention the Cliffs of Dover in a song, immediately popped into my mind. The Cliffs of Dover are truly so high, you can’t see over.

From Dover we popped onto a ferry which is currently ferrying us across the English Channel to Calais, France (hooray for a new mode of transportation!). Assuming our boat does not sink, we will be in Brugge in no time! Time for peanut butter and crackers and chocolate.

Posted by ChelseaLeBlanc 02:26 Archived in England Comments (3)

Brilliant. Cheers!

Hello from England!

We’ve just completed our first few days abroad, and it’s hard to believe it has only been that long. And the strangest part is that it all feels like ONE LONG DAY. We’ve scarcely gotten more than 3 hours of sleep at a stretch so far. And we’ve loved every minute of it :)
We got in on Tuesday morning at 5:55 am local time after the long plane ride and said our goodbyes to Noah and his dad before we parted ways.

IMG_0603.jpg

After making a quick change from dollars to pounds, we took the tube (yes – we are experts at the tube now, as well as London slang) to our hostel in South Kensingston, a fairly posh neighborhood in the south of London.

IMG_0683.jpg

IMG_0684.jpg

Since it was so early (barely 7 am by that time), we left our packs in the luggage room, and headed out on foot to explore London. And what a gorgeous morning for exploring it was! London is already in the midst of spring, with lovely green parks and every tree in full foliage already.

3IMG_0609.jpg

We wandered a ways down quaint streets lined in prim white homes before realizing (with the help of a few helpful Londoners) that we were headed entirely in the wrong direction. We got back on track, and set our sights on Buckingham Palace. And the entire walk there was just fabulous! Perfectly manicured neighborhoods blended easily into lines of posh shops which became more and more impressive. We finally crossed into the center of the shopping district, where the fashions in every window were completely drool-worthy. And then we found Harrod’s. Oh my. Bedecked in British flags and five stories tall, this famous London department store looked more like a castle than a shop!

IMG_0615.jpg

After a nice 45 minute walk or so, we started approaching Buckingham Palace. I can’t even explain how infinitely pleasant the area surrounding the palace is. You know those movies you see taking place in London where the 30-something female protagonist falls in love with some dapper young British man, walking through tree-shaded gardens, across breathtaking plazas, down storybook riverside pathways? Well that is the London just outside Buckingham Palace.

IMG_0622.jpg

We walked around, marveling at this, pointing at that, and despite our exhaustion, it was absolutely wonderful. Of course, at this point, it was nearly time for the daily changing of the guard, so we found a spot on the grand marble steps across from the palace to try to get a good view of … whatever was going to happen. We weren’t quite sure what that was. As it turns out, it involves some marching, some horses, a trumpet fanfare, and rows and rows of men in red coats and those great fuzzy black hats. Very cool.

IMG_0642.jpg

IMG_0676.jpg

We couldn’t quite see what all was going on from behind the large crowd, so we headed across the street to Hyde Park to sunbathe and toss the Frisbee around. How awesome – we got to play Frisbee in beautiful, sunny grassy fields within full view of Buckingham Palace. Which of course, left us asking the question we always ask: “How did we get here!?”

Delerious with exhaustion and happiness at this point, we pushed onwards to see Westminster Abbey and to get a view of the London Eye. We even stumbled across a stonework archway that lead into a gorgeous old brickwork square that housed the Westminster Choir School. With students of all ages running about in uniforms and cricket gear, it felt like another scene out of a movie.

IMG_0656.jpg

IMG_0669.jpg

IMG_0672.jpg

After this, we stumbled home to our hostel (wearing flip flops was my worst exhaustion induced mistake of the day) and flopped into bed for a short nap. Which ended up being a four hour nap. Oops. So much for our plans to get tickets to see a show (Nick was very excited for his all time favorite: Dirty Dancing).

But hope for the evening was not lost. Earlier in the day, we had met some girls from Chicago (Chelsea and Cassie) who we ran into again, along with a few other girls (Amanda and Gabby from Colorado and Rebecca from Australia), and we all decided to take the tube over to Camden, which is apparently known for its interesting night life. Such a good decision. We had a lot of fun with the girls, and got chatted up by tons of (friendly?) Londoners that were surprised to see Americans in those parts. Fun, fun evening – and we even got to check out some pretty authentic English pubs. If only the trip home went as well. Getting back to the hostel proved to be a task that verged on impossible. The London bus system is NOT user-friendly. And with seven slightly crazy girls, it bordered on user-hateful. After trekking back and forth across Camden for about two hours and stopping at least 15 various passerbys on the street for help, we finally got a bus back to the hostel. Phew.

IMG_0681.jpg

Never so happy to return to a slightly grungy, unfamiliar residence, I collapsed into bed just as the first rays of light shone through my window.

In the words of the hostel desk girl, “Brilliant. Cheers!”

Three and a half hours later, we were up and running again. We had our first hostel breakfast (standard: bran cereal and toast with nutella), followed by several VERY frustrating hours of trying to get our plans in order. Transportation is hard to deal with! There is no Eurail in London, so our super take-you-everywhere, better-be-worth-it-for-the-gargantuan-pricetag eurail tickets were of no use. We had to figure out how to get from London to Bath (our next destination), Bath to Stonehenge, Stonehenge to London, and London to Paris, all on various forms of public transit. What nightmare! Four internet-cards later and several failed phone calls later, we got everything squared away. I think.

We still had some things to hit up in London though, so we hopped on the tube with our newfound transportation saviness, and headed for the British Museum. What a fascinating place! They have one of the most impressive archeological collections in the world (mostly because over years of English domination, they stole all the relics they were interested in) but we were excited to see it all! I can’t describe it all, but highlights included the Parthenon frieze from Greece, some of the largest excavated Egyptian pharonic statues, and the massive gates of an Ancient Assyrian civilization. SO SO SO COOL.

IMG_0701.jpg

IMG_0699.jpg

IMG_0723.jpg

With only a few hours until we had to catch our bus to Bath, we left the British museum, looking for St. Paul’s cathedral which was supposedly nearby. Ahead of us, we saw a very old looking stone church, and headed towards it, wondering if this was St. Paul’s. As we walked toward it, I glanced to my left down an alley, and promptly realized that the church we were headed toward was not St. Paul’s. The breathtaking work of art towering over us was.

IMG_0773.jpg

And what a beauty of a cathedral. Again, you had to pinch yourself to know that it was real. Great stone steps leading up to the most glorious stoneworked façade supported by massive columns. Oh, and that’s not all. There was an acoustic duo performing at the base of the steps to the audience gathered before them. Of course there was. Why wouldn’t London be perfect? The three of us sat in sheer happiness, basking in the beauty of the cathedral and the sweet music before the late time pressed us to leave for the bus station.

IMG_0750.jpg

IMG_0758.jpg

IMG_0760.jpg

IMG_0767.jpg

We hopped a bus to Bath (with JUST enough time to spare – almost had a bit of a scare!), and we are currently cruising comfortably through the English countryside in a British coach. The sun is setting in brilliant oranges and purples across lush green fields. I love my life. Gerst and Nick are both passed out in the seats around me. Rightly so, given that we’ve had no more than 8 hours of sleep since Monday morning. In fact, I’m exhausted. I’m leaving.

Good night!

- Chelsea (published a few days late)

Posted by ChelseaLeBlanc 02:01 Comments (3)

(Entries 11 - 15 of 16) « Page 1 2 [3] 4 »