Thursday, April 19, 2012

Brussels (Part II)

Day 2
Well my roommates came in late last night, and they sure weren’t quiet about it. Thanks guys. Speaking of lack of quiet, there are so many sounds right now. One girl is snoring, one is blowing her nose, and the other girl’s phone keeps vibrating. People are talking outside and walking on the floor above me, and I can hear the metro from across the street. Looks like it’s time to wake up.

I’m starting off today by getting some free breakfast at the hostel before venturing off. Update: Just kidding, there were 50 people in there. I grabbed a rice cake and left.

After that I traveled to a flea market, which was huge! I was surprised by how big it was and by how many antiques it had. I bought a few nice things for a total of 15 Euros. (I know Mom, what a bargain!) I hung out at the flea market for a while until I got tired of guys yelling “Bonjour mademoiselle!” Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, they speak French in Brussels.
Flea market
 After that I went to the museum of musical instruments. The set up was really cool. They had tons of cool instruments set up and you could plug your headphones into boxes near each instrument to hear them playing:
The museum had a few floors of instruments so I took a break in between to eat some food at the rooftop restaurant of the museum. I think I had lasagna with zucchini but I’m not entirely sure. When I finished with the museum I walked around for a little bit. After that I decided to use my 24 hour tour pass and hop on the bus again. 

I’m on the bus right now and actually going under the Atomium at this very moment. After this I plan to walk around the Grand Place again then stop somewhere to get dinner. After that, chances are I'll have another waffle before heading to the train station to leave for Paris. Productive time in Brussels!

So, I went out to eat... by myself. Easting an actual sit down dinner by myself was pretty interesting but kind of enjoyable. I actually haven't really been bothered by the fact that I'm alone. It doesn't take long to get used to. So now it's 8:15pm and I'm sitting in the train station waiting for my train to Paris in an hour. I wasn't sure what I was going to do to kill time but luckily a Jehovah's Witness old lady gave me a booklet so I've been reading that. Did you know that everyone gets angry? I learned it from the book. There's a whole article about it. Brussels: COMPLETE.

Brussels (Part I)

Day 1
It’s 7am on a lovely Wednesday morning and I’m embarking on my solo journey to Brussels! I know, you’re all mad at me for going alone, but I couldn’t resist the convenient opportunity. Besides, if you’re reading this that means I uploaded it to my blog and made it home safe and sound.

So for this post I’ll do something a little different and type up my blog on my iPod as I go since I’ll be alone and won’t have anyone to talk things over with. Right now I’m sitting in St. Pancras International Station waiting for my train to come, eating some crackers and drinking some water. The baby sitting a few seats down from me is precious and I wish I could take a picture of him but I feel like that may not be the best idea. They just announced my train platform so now I’m rising up one of those cool flat escalator type things to get there. I just got to my seat: Coach 14, seat 54. Oh nice! When booking my ticket online I made sure to choose a seat next to the window, unfortunately this is what I got:
Oh well, I tried. Off to a great start. 

Update: my ears are popping. I’m about to go through the underwater tunnel from England to France.

So I eventually made it to Brussels. Right now it’s 9 at night and my first day here in done. It was surprisingly easy to get from the train station to my hostel. The hostel itself is pretty nice and very clean, which is always comforting. Since the hostel is in the process of expanding, my room is actually in another building than the reception, food, and wifi. I’m really roughing it out here. When I walked into my room earlier I quickly saw I had three female roommates, judging by the bags around the room. I didn’t meet them though and I actually still haven’t seen them. How mysterious. 

So after I checked in set myself up in my room, got my maps and everything together, and set off for my hop-on-hop-off tour. This was also surprisingly easy to find. On the tour I sat on the top of the bus with the open roof. The weather was sunny and pretty much perfect. Throughout the tour I saw tons of stuff:
 I got off at the last stop of the tour to explore the historic and touristy area by foot. I saw Mannekin Pis (the statue of the little boy peeing), the Grand Place, and ate some Belgian fries, chocolate, and a waffle. I also made a point to hit up some souvenir shops.
Mannekin Pis!

Once the sun started going down I headed back to the hostel to shower and get my stuff together. Here I am now, laying in bed, feeling the little bit of sunburn I must have gotten on my cheeks. Tomorrow I plan on going to a flea market, the Museum of Musical Instruments, and a restaurant before I leave to meet my friends in Paris in the evening. Day 1 solo was a success. Onward!

Adventures in Amsterdam

Amsterdam in one word = bizarre. I knew things there would be very different but I still did not completely expect the things I encountered. First off, it's important to know that Amsterdam is extremely liberal in its views. For example, it was the first place to legalize gay marriage and create a monument in its honor. Also, prostitution and marijuana are both legal there. On our walking tour we learned that Amsterdam was always a very merchant and religious city. Because of this, there are many churches around. While we were strolling through the red light district on our tour we passed some minimally clothed ladies behind glass doors, only to walk another 50 feet to come up to the front door of a church. It's hard to initially get over this kind of drastic cultural difference.

As for another cultural difference, the consumption of marijuana is completely legal. We quickly realized the extent of this legality the minute we walked into our hostel. It was clear that most of the tourists, as well as the hostel staff, were clearly under the influence. There was even a little room downstairs labeled the smoking room, where people could smoke cigarettes, cigars, and weed while they casually ate their morning cereal. Yum. The hostel itself was pretty strange, especially in the way it was decorated. There was also a creepy black cat that roamed freely around, successfully scaring all of us as it seemed to constantly stare at us, no matter where we were.

Even so, Amsterdam was also very beautiful. It has tons of canals that run throughout it and people rent boats or paddle boats to travel down them. We took a tram when we first got there, which was also pretty cool. Parts of Amsterdam, like Prague, remind me much of Disney World. Here are some pictures:
Part of our hostel room
 The most moving thing a few of us did in Amsterdam is visit the Anne Frank House. I remember reading her diary a while ago and visiting her memorial museum is something I've always wanted to do. We were able to walk around the house she and her family hid in, starting at the business front below and going through the swinging bookcase-door up to the Secret Annex at the top. Reading about these things is one thing but actually seeing them is an entirely deeper experience.

The Anne Frank House

On a more positive note, Amsterdam, though a very short trip, was a success. Since the school portion of my internship ended Friday and the camp portion doesn't start until April, I have this whole week off! I'm leaving for Brussels Wednesday morning then heading over to Paris Thursday evening for the rest of the weekend. Onward!

Piano Concerto No. 16 Going On 17 (Salzburg Part II)

Day 3
On the morning of our third day in Salzburg we were woken up by Ping, repacking his items in his backpack, using the loudest plastic bags known to mankind. I’m still not actually sure why he had to unpack his things in the first place, since he was only in Salzburg for one night, but I digress. When we officially woke up we walked around again, taking in the views and the gorgeous weather. In the morning I decided to venture off to see Mozart’s birthplace, his residence, and the Mozart Museum. I got to see all his baby instruments that he played when he was only five years old. What a cute little prodigy!

Mozart's birthplace
Mozart's house
Love locks
In the afternoon we went up to what’s known as Hohensalzburg Castle, or the fortress. The train to get up there was pretty much at an 80 degree angle but the floor was perpendicular to the mountain so we could stand. In the fortress we had some great views of Salzburg and we learned the history of the fortress itself.

Train track up the mountain
The cemetery from The Sound of Music
The view down the tracks
The fortress
The view from the top of the fortress
When we got back to the hostel we were surprised to have another roommate; PK from Canada. He’s the type of guy who doesn’t like to smile, no matter what. Later on he loosened up as he told us about his long term girlfriend. Turns out PK was slacking as a romantic boyfriend so we gave him some advice. Not many people get to say they had a heart to heart with a Canadian hockey player at a hostel in Salzburg. I’m livin the life. You’re welcome PK.

PK's very Canadian stuff
 That pretty much sums up Salzburg. The pictures are more important since my descriptions can’t really do it justice. In the end, arriving back in London was a breath of fresh air. Never have I been so refreshed by the English language.

Fun facts:
- Our room number and our flight number were both 307.
- Our place traveled around 490 mph.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Eine Kleine Do-Re-Mi (Salzburg Part I)

The best part of my Spring Break by far was Salzburg, Austria; the birthplace of Mozart and the location of The Sound of Music. We didn’t know exactly what to expect upon coming here and were beyond pleasantly surprised. We were very happy to leave Vienna and catch a train across Austria. Luckily, we were able to get a really cheap train for only 23 Euros and it was the nicest train I’ve ever been on. There were couch-like seats that we could pretty much lay down on for the 3 hour ride. The views from the Austrian countryside only added to how great the ride was. 

Day 1
When we first got to Salzburg I was completely taken back by the mountains that are visible in the distance in nearly every direction. To see the town we did our own walking tour with a good old-fashioned map. We went to a bakery, bought some candy, and continued to be amazed by the picturesque views. Our hostel was a nice mix between the home-like hostel we stayed at in Prague and the hotel-like hostel we stayed at in Vienna. To our great pleasure, the hostel showed The Sound of Music movie every night in the living room area. Of course, we went and watched it. I forgot how many great songs that movie had in it. For dinner we ate at a super-trendy (almost too trendy) sushi place. The food was good but we felt slightly too un-cool to be eating there.

Day 2
The next day we embarked on our Sound of Music tour, unsure of how it would be. On our way there we sat with a Canadian couple who truly were the epitome of an “opposites attract” couple. That really set the tone for the entire tour. Overall, the tour was awesome! We saw the recreated gazebo from the “I am 16 Going on 17” part of the film. Unfortunately we couldn’t go inside because a 90-year-old woman once fell in it and broke her hip while trying to recreate the scene were Liesel jumps from bench to bench singing. Poor lady, she tried. Instead, we worked with what we had and made a video of me running around the outside of the gazebo while Val and Katie sand the “I am 20 Going On 21” version of the song:
During the tour we also saw other scenes from the movie, such as one of the houses used as the Von Trapp house, the convent, the church, the cemetery, and the garden. Here are some pictures:

Our hostel
Mirabell Gardens 

The Mirabell Garden scene from the movie

The Von Trapp House
Gazebo scene 



The church where Maria got married
Inside the church
Hot chocolate!
Apple strudel
 The best part of this tour was that Peter, our lovely tour guide, put on The Sound of Music soundtrack while we drove around in our minivan bus. During the break on our tour we were brought to St. Gilgens and Mondsee; two beautiful areas that are honeymoon worthy. For me, breathtaking is an understatement. If I hadn’t gone to this place myself I wouldn’t believe it was real. We sat outside at a quaint cafĂ© next to the church used in the Sound of Music movie and had some hot chocolate and apple strudel.
When we got back to our hostel we were surpised to find that we had our first roommate while traveling abroad: a young Asian boy named Ping. He barely spoke English but was very sweet.

That night we went to an Irish pub (in Austria, I know, we completely failed to embrace the Austrian culture) called Shamrock. Here, we got beer called Edelweiss and watched a live band perform. It was funny to watch the band read the English words off of a piece of paper and mess a few of them up occasionally.