Thursday, 16 April 2015

Europe, Part One

I'm back! It's weird writing a blog again actually, even though it's only been a few weeks. Forgive me if I sound rusty ;)

So, during our two week Easter break off from school, eleven of those days were spent traveling to five different cities in four different countries. I went with three very cool people: Julie, my roommate; Carlos, who is from Spain; and Bert, who's from the Netherlands. It's weird to think that I've only known these people for three months, but here I went traveling around Europe with them. Yay for circumstances that create really fast friendships! hahaha. We actually accomplished a lot in that week and a half, so I've tried to narrow it down to the interesting stuff - in other words, this will won't be very detailed. Even so, it's still too much for one post, so I'll be writing two. A couple of cities today, a couple later.

So, here we go, with city numero uno:

London was huge. It looks exactly like you would think it would look like, with these massive, white, majestical, old buildings surrounding you almost no matter where you go. Telephone boxes were on every street, double decker buses were a constant sight, and the entire city sparkled at night. In fact, we didn't arrive at our hostel until later our first night, so when we finally got out to explore, it was already 8pm. Our first view of London was when everything was lit up, and needless to say, that was probably one of the best moments on the trip.

Mostly, our adventures in London consisted of just walking around, seeing as much as possible. London is as expensive as everyone thinks, so there was no way we could possibly do all the touristy things without going broke in the first three days. We did choose one touristy thing though - the London Eye - and it was exceptionally cool getting to see the city from that high up.

My favourite London experiences were probably that first night, seeing everything in the dark, and our last day, when we went for afternoon tea. (Ugh - that sounds really lame doesn't it? haha). We had just spent a whole day walking, and it was really nice to just sit down in a cafe, drink English Breakfast tea in London, and look out at the city. It was one of those moments where I thought, "Holy shit! I'm in London drinking tea! How cool is this?!" This whole trip was very surreal, so any moment where the gravity of what we were doing or where we were was actually apparent, was very welcome ;)

London at night! The London Eye was the first thing we saw, followed by Big Ben. Obviously, pictures don't do it justice, but nevertheless, it's still pretty cool.

The famous London Bridge. We took far too many pictures, and then slowly meandered our way across it.

The guards in front of Buckingham Palace! We didn't get up close to any of them, but we actually lucked out. Without planning it, we showed up just in time to watch them change!

The Canada gate! This is right close to Buckingham Palace, and at first, none of us had any idea what it was for. Upon closer inspection, each of the columns had Canadian provinces on it, basically stating when each joined the country. It was cool! Obviously, we had to take a picture.

The Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey from the London Eye. It started raining about halfway through our ride, but even so, we still got some pretty cool pictures.

Ironically, out of the four of us, I was really the only one who wanted to go to Amsterdam haha. Bert is from Holland, so it's analogous to me visiting Vancouver, and Carlos and Julie were interested, but not particularly excited. For some reason, I had it in my head that Amsterdam was going to be this quaint little city, beautifully lit up at night (I think I have a thing for cities at night hahaha), and there were going to be tulips everywhere, in front of all the characteristically tall skinny buildings. I think I'm too much of an idealist - though, except for the tulips, which were out of season, all of that was pretty much true.

We went on a canal cruise, walked through a flower market, and ate some strange, probably really unhealthy, Dutch food. Croquette was the first thing, and I didn't particularly like it. It's a fried roll filled with some sort of meat. Secondly, we tried frikandel (no, I still can't correctly pronounce it), which is basically a type of hot dog, with curry, mayonnaise, and onions on it. It sounds disgusting, right? Well, I tried it anyway, and surprisingly enough, very surprisingly, I actually kind of liked it. Who knew?!
We tried to go to the Anne Frank house too, but there was a two and a half hour wait, and at that point, it was windier then it was in Ireland, so with a unanimous vote, we went to a wax museum instead.... what a historical substitution, right?

I guess I should also mention that yes, we did walk through the red light district, and once was enough.
All in all, Amsterdam was beautiful, and I'm glad we chose it as one of our cities to visit.

The canals! And tall, skinny buildings! Oh, behold!

There is no escape from the bikes. No escape.

The I amsterdam sign! Both days we saw it, it was aswarm with tourists - so we took pictures from far away, and went back at night when it was quieter. I don't have any of those pictures yet though haha, so this'll have to do.

Brussels is the capital city of Belgium, and I loved it. If I were to go to any of these places again, I would come back here. Perhaps that's because I really love waffles, or perhaps that's because we only got to spend half a day there. Probably both, but whatever the case, Brussels was fantastic. Though, if I ever go back, I might want to learn French. Apparently, studying it for six years throughout school gave me nothing.

We decided to go on a walking tour of the city, which ended up being led by an Irish guy! We talked to him a bit about Waterford and Ireland, after he educated us on the history of Belgium. It's a small world, I guess. We also drank Belgian beer, and ate chocolate, waffles, and fries. Honestly..... I think chocolate is just chocolate. Maybe I didn't try the right stuff? I didn't taste anything particularly different between chocolate from home and Belgian chocolate. The fries were good too, but since I don't really like fries, I can't say much on that front either. Everyone else loved them though, so they must've been good. And the waffles, you ask? Let's just say I will always be disappointed with Belgian waffles at home from now on. They were melt in your mouth, diabetes on a plate, absolute deliciousness. The streets literally smell like chocolate and waffles all the time too. It's great. Unless you're walking through them hungry.

As a city, Brussels had a bit more of a modern twist to it, but since we only had one day here, we spent most of the time in the older, quainter section. (I know I overuse the word quaint, I'm sorry haha).
Favorite moment: obviously eating waffles!

Our hostel in Brussels was super cool. The whole common room was decorated with old ... artifacts, for a lack of a better word. They had planes, bikes, an old typewriter, etc.
Generally speaking, we lucked out with all our hostels. As long as you keep the expectations low, then it will always be better then you thought haha. We didn't spend a lot of time in any of them either, which helped.

One of the main buildings in the main square. One of the things we learned on our walking tour: this building was constructed improperly. If you look at either side of the building, they're actually unequal. The picture may not be the best to see it, but there's a pretty big difference. None of us noticed it at first, but once pointed out, it's literally all you can see. Even more, the door isn't centre in the column. It's significantly off to one side.
Consequently, if you ever want to insult someone Belgian style, you call them a drunken architect ;)


Bruges is the second city in Belgium that we visited. We went here because everyone that we had talked to who had visited Belgium, said that Bruges was actually much nicer then Brussels. Since the two cities are close enough to each other, we decided to go. Weirdly enough though, all of us agreed that we liked Brussels better. This may have been due to the fact that Bruges was a smaller town (though more medieval, which was cool), and after the excitement of three big cities right before, it was kind of underwhelming. Bruges is also known for it's canals, and while impressive on their own, they were nothing compared to the canals of Amsterdam. And while seemingly meaningless, the weather was much nicer in Brussels then Bruges, so that might have had something to do with it as well.

We decided to go on a walking tour here too, and needless to say, it also may have coloured our glasses in an unflattering light. In the first two minutes of the tour, our guide must've sworn at everything and everyone five times. His jokes were incredibly uncomfortable & inappropriate, especially considering the fact that we were basically strangers. It was weird. We all sort of wanted to leave actually, but weren't sure how to execute it without being rude. All in all, just a tip then: if you want to go to Bruges, just explore it on your own hahaha.

Windmills are a big thing here. So we walked for ages (not really, it was like 20 minutes), and got to see some windmills up close.

Canals, medieval buildings, and boats.

The main square. It was substantially smaller then any of the other cities so far. Still pretty amazing though, especially when you consider that nothing like this exists where we live.

According to the tour guide, this is the most beautiful spot in Bruges. Why, I do not know haha. But here you go.

And, that's it for today! I have most of my next blog written already, so that should appear within another couple of days or so :)

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