Days 53 to 56: More Barcelona and on to Madrid

Remember: I’m home now, just finishing up the details of my trip. I hope you enjoy!

Day 53

I got up “early” to head to the Picasso Museu which is in the Gothic area of Barcelona. I didn’t pre-purchase tickets, so figured opening time was a good time to show up, and they opened at 9am.

It was an odd museum. The building is a combination of a bunch of buildings all mushed into one, so the flow through the galleries was not stellar. With the lack of crowd though, it wasn’t a problem. There were a lot of things to see that I hadn’t realized Picasso had done anything in that medium. Can you say pottery? Weird. They had a lot of the Las Meninas interpretations on display, which I still don’t quite get the connection between the original and the Picasso version, but maybe some day I’ll have an epiphany.

Back to the hostel for a nap. Sometimes you just need a nap. My roommates were still sleeping from getting home late, so at least I fit right in.

I headed over towards Sagrada Familia for a late lunch, as I had a ticket for the afternoon. I waited a while for a table outside, and got to enjoy a nice glass of wine while doing so, so really not a problem to wait. I got paella for lunch! It was delicious and I’m so glad they were willing to make it for me. Usually its a two person minimum to get it, but as I was not at the lunch rush time, they made me one.

IMG_3945
Look at all that seafood goodness.

Off to Sagrada Familia. Mostly pictures here for you. Totally worth the trip, and if you can, go when it’s sunny, the light through the windows was my favorite part. The structure isn’t set to be complete for another couple tens of years, so no avoiding the construction.

You can't even see the details when you look at the whole thing.
You can’t even see the details when you look at the whole thing.
A bit closer up on one of the entrances.
A bit closer up on one of the entrances.
The tree like columns used to support the upper sections are cool and unlike other support structures. Gaudi pulled from nature a lot.
The tree like columns used to support the upper sections are cool and unlike other support structures. Gaudi pulled from nature a lot.
It's amazing that even the staircase can be so architecturally exciting.
It’s amazing that even the staircase can be so architecturally exciting.
One side the windows stream in the cool colors.
One side the windows stream in the cool colors.
And the other is all the warm colors.
And the other is all the warm colors.

After all the admiring, I headed back and did some laundry. Everything gets so sweaty so quickly, no matter what. My plan of being able to wear things more than once before needing to wash them hadn’t been working in Barcelona. Luckily with the bit more space from sending things home, I could add a couple more light weight pieces to my clothes collection, but even then, everything is gross so quickly.

Day 54

Today was spent at Mont Serat, which is a monastery in the Mont Serat mountains. So named because of the serrated look the mountains have.

To get there you take one of the regional Catalunya trains, and then have the option of taking the rack rail train, or the cable car. I opted for the cable car. You can get an entire package for your trip which would include all your tickets and other extras, but with my rail pass, I didn’t need some of the things, and buying the tickets separately proved to be quite simple.

The cable car would not be my suggestion to anyone who is even slightly afraid of heights.

If you look really really hard, you can see the yellow cable cars off in the distance.
If you look really really hard, you can see the yellow cable cars off in the distance.
This one the car is easier to see as it is closer. But you definitely can't see the end point.
This one the car is easier to see as it is closer. But you definitely can’t see the end point.
Just being artsy and annoying taking a picture out the window.
Just being artsy and annoying taking a picture out the window.
A picture looking back where we came from, the other end of the road with the roundabout.
A picture looking back where we came from, the other end of the road with the roundabout.
The view from the top looking back. You can't see the bottom.
The view from the top looking back. You can’t see the bottom.

It took a couple minutes to get from the bottom to the top. You have a pretty great view of the valley once you get up there.

DSCN6055

At this point, you are at the main monastery area. There are a few shops and a museum and a couple places to grab some bites to eat. If you go, I suggest packing food though. None of the places to get eats were very appealing and all were (not surprisingly) very expensive. From this level, you have the option to go a little bit back down the hill to see some more things or up to the top of the mountain to see more things. I went up.

The funicular track to go up.
The funicular track to go up.

You could chose to get a return ticket, or to walk down. Looking back, I would have chosen to walk down, but that is not what I did. (You could also walk up, if you’re in for some crazy exercise or something)

Up at the top there are some trails and they lead you to a couple different small churches, and some areas where the Monks apparently lived. The housing areas were in the sides of the rocks. I’m not sure if they were natural spaces or if they had been carved out, but either way, they were kind of terrifying so I didn’t make the entire trek to all of them. With better planning, and a buddy, I would definitely recommend hiking around the top for a couple hours! I spent quite a while up there and still wish I had gone farther on the hikes.

The trail, where you can see one of the buildings.
The trail, where you can see one of the buildings.
This is the rock the mountain is made of. It looks like man made concrete to me, but the whole mountain is this way with rocks embedded in the rock.
This is the rock the mountain is made of. It looks like man made concrete to me, but the whole mountain is this way with rocks embedded in the rock.
View out from the housing area.
View out from the housing area.
View back towards the housing area from the mountain top in the other picture.
View back towards the housing area from the mountain top in the other picture. Its in one of the lines on the rock that is farthest left of the tall bit.
There are houses on these steep cliffs. I wish I knew how people got to them.
There are houses on these steep cliffs (one near the middle, one towards the end of the mountain). I wish I knew how people got to them.

After my trip to the top, I headed back to visit the monastery. It is only open during a small range of hours as they do hold services there.

The forecourt before the church, within the monastery walls.
The forecourt before the church, within the monastery walls.
Inside the church.
Inside the church.

I wandered down another path I found after this, but in the end, it didn’t lead to much. There was a side trail to another small church, but I didn’t want to risk it with the time it was getting to be and miss my train back.

Overall this was a fun day and lots of things to see. Totally worth the trip, just be ready for lots of walking!

Day 55

My only plan for this day was to check out Park Guell, another Gaudi creation. The original goal of the park was to be turned into a high end residential area. The park has a great view over the city. However, very little was ever actually constructed. The park is a very nice bit of green space in the city. It was not the easiest to get to via public transport, but not too bad. It required more walking than most areas though. I was very thankful for the outdoor escalators that got you up to the entrance. It took four or five to get there.

View from the park
View from the park
I swear it looks like these rocks should be falling out.
I swear it looks like these rocks should be falling out.
One of the features in the free access area of the park.
One of the features in the free access area of the park.

To get into the part with the majority of the Gaudi structures, you have to get a ticket, and entrances are timed, only so many per half hour. So even though it was close to 10 when I got there, the next time slot was 12-12:30. Not too bad. I spent a good chunk of that time wandering around, the rest was spent chilling with a book.

The room of columns. This was intended to be a central meeting place/market area.
The room of columns. This was intended to be a central meeting place/market area.
A Gaudi feature is the last row of columns leaning in.
A Gaudi feature is the last row of columns leaning in.
View from farther out.
View from farther out.
Decoration on the bench on top of the room of columns.
Decoration on the bench on top of the room of columns.
The stairs and another little weird room.
The stairs and another little weird room.
One of the guard houses by the entrance.
One of the guard houses by the entrance.

I definitely didn’t think this was worth the money or the wait to see. All over Barcelona are things with a mosaic lizard on them. This was on the stair case leading to the room of columns, and wasn’t even worth my stopping to take a picture.

Overall, I would say hit up the park if you have extra time, but don’t bother paying to go into the small fee for entrance area. Or better yet, skip the park and go to the beach another time.

After this I spent some time wandering around and doing some shopping and getting a few things for my next train trip (mmm food).

Day 56

Off to Madrid. Another enjoyable train ride. However, in Spain, they actually scan your bags to make sure you’re not carrying a weapon. Not that I think they looked hard enough to catch anything, but they scanned it. And for the AVE trains (Spain’s fast trains) there was a weird queue to get down to the platform. They didn’t open it until a set time before the train, and everyone was in this crazy line, all worried and annoyed. Seemed very different from all my other train experiences.

In Madrid, I opted for an airbnb. This was because all the HI hostels were full, but I’m sure I could have found another hostel to stay at, just didn’t look before leaving. My apartment was very conveniently located, and I found it easily. What was not so easy, was that it was on the 5th floor, with a slightly terrifying staircase and I had lots of things.

The person I had been messaging with over airbnb wasn’t there to let me in, instead it was one of his cleaning people. The upside was that it was in fact nice and clean. The downside was that she only spoke Spanish, and mine was very rusty. Ended up getting it sorted out okay. But definitely not my favorite experience.

I decided to pick one thing that for my evening in Madrid. I chose to visit the Plaza de Toros as it wasn’t located near anything else I was planning to see. If you can’t tell by the name, this is where they do bull fights. It was cool to see and is a huge arena. The audio guide tour was appreciated.

Cool artwork around the wall of the plaza area.
Cool artwork around the wall of the plaza area.
A nice terrace for time between fights. Generally used for meeting people and chatting while enjoying a beer.
A nice terrace for time between fights. Generally used for meeting people and chatting while enjoying a beer.
Huge ring!
Huge ring!
The box for the king and queen. The location of which is the best in the arena as it will be in the afternoon shade. Ticket prices vary by sun vs shade seating!
The box for the king and queen. The location of which is the best in the arena as it will be in the afternoon shade. Ticket prices vary by sun vs shade seating!
Sir Ian Fleming. I thought it odd to see him here, but it turns out that penicillin made something like 90% of bull fighting wounds non-fatal.
Sir Ian Fleming. I thought it odd to see him here, but it turns out that penicillin made something like 90% of bull fighting wounds non-fatal.

Some how I didn’t take any pictures of the entire ring from the outside. Too late now! I stopped to grab some food to cook on my way home and enjoyed having space to myself again for the evening.

Day 44 and 45 – Lyon Adventures

Day 44

So it turned out that we really only ended up with one day in Lyon to see all it’s wonders. That made for a busy day!

We started off the day by checking out the Basillic, which was on top of the hill by my hostel. You can see it from a large portion of the city, and it has great views over the city.

DSCN5796

DSCN5794

 

DSCN5797

DSCN5795

A pretty impressive place over all.

Next we headed over to the Roman Ruins. I hadn’t know that Lyon was a Roman city until we got here… turns out Lugdnum was one of the largest Roman cities that has ever existed. The ruins are two theaters and some public buildings on the hill side. They actually updated the theaters and use them every summer for outdoor concerts (seems strange to me to use 1000 year old ruins for concerts, but hey).

DSCN5813

DSCN5819

IMG_3806

It was fun to hike around the ruins. Pretty much nothing was off limits, which seems so strange to me. I’m sure at home everything would be blocked off, because there were areas where you could fall quite a distance, etc.

There is also a Roman History Museum near by. It was giant, but certainly didn’t seem that way at the beginning. I think there were five floors of displays. Everything in the Museum was found in the Lyon area at some point in history. The whole city is so on top of the old Roman city, that anytime someone wants to build something, or dig anywhere, they now perform an archaeological dig first. I was floored by some of the stuff here. There were a lot of burial epitaphs, which isn’t surprising they survived as they were designed to, and this was a city of importance. (Of course I find those none too interesting, so pictures are of other things, and never very many.)

IMG_3808

But even crazier, was when we got to the bottom of the museum (you start at the top and take a circular route down). There I saw this room, which is just blocked off by fences. Shelved upon shelves of additional things they could display.

DSCN5839

 

After this we ran some errands. I needed to get my reservation for my train to Nice, and Amy needed to print her boarding pass for her flight from Paris. Luckily, mine was easy. Line was short and it was decently simple. Not the train I’d hoped for, but still getting there the right day. Amy’s luck wasn’t so good. Apparently printing things in public locations isn’t a thing. We stopped at the library, which would have worked great, except you need a library card to login to the computer. Oh well, we’d figure it out later.

We then headed off to catch a boat cruise around the rivers. It was scheduled at 2… and we got there at 2:03 to see the boat pulling away from the dock. It was a bit farther away than we’d planned for, and even with super speed walking, we were too late. This made for a decently calm lunch sitting by the river. Not a horrible trade off. While we were eating/drinking/chatting, this giant group of swans swam by.

IMG_3810
Right past us, maybe 3 feet away.

Next on the adventure plan was a trip up to the silk workshops. So glad we took the metro for this one, it’s on top of the other hill in Lyon. The internet hadn’t made it clear that the demonstrations (two) were in different buildings. So we got to the first one at the appointed hour…. only the demonstration was in a different place, a 5-10 minute walk away. We boogied.

There was a couple there who had just started the demonstration. The explanation was in French, and the man was translating to Dutch for the woman. They shortly figured out we spoke English, and he offered to translate to English instead. Well, turns out they could provide the tour in English, if that’s the language we all understood. Yay!

After that tour and demonstration (silk ribbon weaving, using punch cards), we headed back to the place we first stopped for a demonstration of cloth weaving. Overall very cool. And they totally won out because what’s better for souvenirs than locally made products? Exactly.

Next on the list was dinner. However, I’d seen somewhere on the GIANT map they gave us, that Ampere’s house or something was here. Well I’d torn that bit off, and it was too late for anything like that to be open anyways. However, there is a metro stop Ampere, and Ampere Plaza. So being the good electrical engineers (we did meet in an electrical class at school…) we headed off to check it out. Turns out Ampere spent most of his adult life in Lyon.

IMG_3817

We then headed off to find a spot to eat. Along the way, we found a couple hotels. We decided we should really duck into one and see if they offered printing (boarding pass, remember). The first place we stopped did! Yay! And they had a book with places to eat. Even better. The receptionist told us that really, there no place to do public printing in France, it’s just not a thing. Good to know now. After that food, then home.

Not the hotel we stopped at, but picture necessary!
Not the hotel we stopped at, but picture necessary!

Whew, that was a lot in one day.

Day 45 – Back to being alone

Amy had an early train to Paris, so I was back to being alone. I hadn’t been able to get the morning train to Nice, or the afternoon train, so I was stuck with the evening option, leaving at 6 something. Not the end of the world, but I did need to fill my time during the day.

So what did I do? I hit up the stores. Knowing I was already planning on mailing something home, I figured this was the time to shop.

At the demonstrations the day before, I’d found that they also did silk screen printing demonstrations in town. Since I had the time, I decided to head there to check that out. It was pretty interesting. The only trouble was a wandered in at the beginning of a demonstration for a large group. Oh well, I could hear fine.

They print around 6 at a time, one color has to dry for 20 minutes before another can be added.
They print around 6 at a time, one color has to dry for 20 minutes before another can be added.

I caught my train, picnic in tow. The woman across the aisle was giving me weird looks, and eventually said something to me, in French, which I have no idea what it was, but she didn’t seem too happy. Oh well. It was the 1st of August, and mostly families heading off for Holiday. I should have known, and known I needed to make this train reservation ASAP. Oh well. Pleasant trip for the most part.

IMG_3831

 

Day 41: More Classic Paris

I slept in a bit after my late night out, which was a mistake. I was heading to the Musee d’Orsay in the morning. Well, so was everyone else. If I’d read up a bit more I would have found that Tuesdays are a really bad day to visit the Musee d’Orsay because the Louvre is closed and so everyone goes there. The line was down the block, almost around the corner; and yes, it was the line for the museum pass which usually has a line jumping aspect.

Got in and wandered around. The museum is in an old train station, which is super cool looking to me.

IMG_3756

Otherwise, there’s a lot of cool more contemporary art in the museum. I really enjoyed this museum a lot more than the Louvre, but that’s obviously due to the type of art I enjoy. I caught a few more Van Gogh pieces here. I was super annoyed that I’d seen 3 very good Van Gogh displays and had not yet seen his Starry Night painting. So I had to look up where it is. Of course, it’s in the Met, in NYC. So maybe I’ll have to take a trip there to see it soon. But amusingly, every museum sells pictures of it, or souvenirs with that on it. So every time I thought that museum had the actual painting.

I did really love the gallery with all the painters that used the dot painting method. Van Gogh and Munch tried it at one point which was displayed in their comparison at the Munch museum in Oslo (which I’m loving more and more as I see other museums). Anyways, this is one that I really found myself drawn to.

Interesting to me more due to method than subject
Interesting to me more due to method than subject

I’m amazed how the contrasting colors really play into the overall view of the subject in the paintings. I wish I could take up a painting hobby (just like I wish I could take up a lace hobby, maybe someday).

After this I headed over to check out Notre Dame. The line was insane, and I seriously debated going in or not. I ended up deciding yes. All said and done now, it wasn’t too interesting and I would have not been too sad to miss it. But not knowing, I would have been sad, so I’m glad I waited. The line had the out and back and turned out again. Yet it didn’t take more than 45 minutes. And was very organized for having no ropes.

Afterward I headed back to the hostel to do some laundry and to sit down. Both were very needed. Everything was dirty, and I was pooped. I had tossed out dinner to everyone again that night, gotten no response (for dinner), so off I went to eat on my own after my laundry was finished.

I got to Bouillon Chartier and the entire menu is in French so I just kind of picked something. I ordered it and the server asked me like four times if I was sure I wanted that. It was very French. She described it as intestines. Which made sense because I thought it was sausage from the name. So I said yes, I’d like that, regardless of her questions.

Well, she was right. And intestines was an understatement. I got it and tried it. It looks like a sausage. I cut it open, and no longer do I think it is a sausage. It smells like a barn yard. I convinced myself I needed a bit to say I’d had it. So I took a bite. Ew. I had to order something else. Luckily for the server, she had warned me every way possible, so I ordered another and paid for both. Lucky for me, it wasn’t a super expensive restaurant, good place to try weird food.

This is what I ordered. I couldn't even tell you what it is. I'm impressed they could.
This is what I ordered. I couldn’t even tell you what it is. I’m impressed they could.

Checked out the wifi and ended up meeting up with the same people later nearby. The Danish girls were there before the others, and had brought drinks with them. So we headed to find a bench or a park, which didn’t exist so we settled for a curb to drink some. Then we headed to a bar where everyone else met us, but we still had drinks left in the bought drinks. Three of us went out to have a bit more, and came back to the bar, and were told we couldn’t go in. Well, that’s a problem. Our things were in there and coats and our friends. Convinced the security guy to let one person go in to collect things. I’m sure they didn’t expect to lose 8 people when they said the three of us couldn’t go back in, but they did. And no one was even close to annoying. So weird. Would never fly at home.

Headed home after checking out another bar for a bit. Nothing too exciting.

Day 39: The most Paris of Paris things to do

I decided before heading out on this trip that I needed to go to the Louvre early in the day, preferably when it opened. Lucky for me, it didn’t open until 9. I got there around 9:15. With the lack of need to buy tickets, I walked right in. I headed straight for the Mona Lisa, knowing that even though it felt crowded now, it would only get worse. It was surprisingly not difficult to get my picture. And thankfully everyone now tells you that it’s a tiny painting, don’t expect much. Because that’s the truth. Nothing extraordinary about it.

IMG_3616

My general thought on the Louvre is that if no one ever again decides to paint the Crucifixion, or the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus, the world will have enough paintings. If you disagree, sorry. And the rest of the museum should be decently titled “Shit we should return to the countries we stole it from”. So it was interesting, but not thrilling. And WAY too big to be one museum. One of the special exhibitions was the restoration of the Winged Victory statue. That was very interesting. I will never understand how someone decides what’s dirt or rubble vs what’s part of some statue. Essentially, the statue was a bunch of pieces that they managed to put back together.

It's creepy to see this man constructed out of vegetables.
It’s creepy to see this man constructed out of vegetables. However, his counter part constructed of fruit was just entertaining.
And wtf. This is just gross.
And wtf. This is just gross.
Sometimes the rooms were as interesting as the art in them.
Sometimes the rooms were as interesting as the art in them.
And I just loved this blue guy.
And I just loved this blue guy.

After the Louvre I went to catch this walking tour. This time I was plenty early. A couple other people struck up conversations around me and I just joined on in. Turned out to be a great choice. I’ve had great luck meeting people on walking tours. We toured and learned our bits and pieces. We had a slightly modified tour as the real TOUR was going on. Of course I refer to the Tour de France. It was ending in Paris this day, and blocks off a lot of streets.

Classic picture, had to be done.
Classic picture, had to be done.

My new friends and I had intended to grab some food and wine and catch a seat somewhere to catch the race. But after heading to the toilettes, we seemed to be stuck in the area we were. The metro was closed and we couldn’t cross the streets. So we checked out what was going on. It was the sponsor parade for the Tour. So we grabbed a spot, figuring the Tour couldn’t be far behind.

Let me just tell you, we were very very very very wrong. Which would have been fine in the sunshine, but it was raining. And rather chilly. Oh well. Mind you, every time something came by we got excited figuring the bikes were soon and so we should stay. Wrong. It ended up being about 2 hours. And then the bikers came by in probably 30 seconds. Because it was gross out and they all already knew who won. After the Mona Lisa and the Little Mermaid, this still wins as the biggest disappointment of my trip so far. Good thing it’s a once in a life time thing.

Up close... and freezing.
Up close… and freezing.

After this we grabbed some dinner. I tried the, walk away from the tourist places to find dinner option, but all we found were closed restaurants. So we went back to the Latin Quarter. And did not walk far enough, because it was not good. And the waiter totally worked us over. Oh well. Lesson learned. I should have known before.

The group decided we all wanted to picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower and so decided to meet tomorrow to do so.

Day 35, 36, 37 – Brugge et al

(on my to watch list)
(on my to watch list)

 

Day 35: Brugge isn’t near the beach

I caught a rather normal time train out to Brugge (I’m choosing this spelling because it’s what used there, however, English is Bruges. It’s pronounced more like the Flemish spelling anyways). I believe I got on around 10:30, there at 12. Walked to my Hostel. Realized this was farther than I hoped to be walking frequently and had seen they did bike rentals, so I rented I bike. I had found a Brugge USE-IT map when I was in Brussels, and one of the things they listed was a bike to the beach. Which I decided I wanted to do because it was nice. The directions were a tad lacking, but luckily finding the beach wasn’t too hard. The unlucky part was that when I got there, it looked like an imminent storm. I really don’t know what imminent looks like around the world, but this would have been a storm in an hour at home, so I decided I should probably head back.

The canal you bike down for a bit on the way to the beach.
The canal you bike down for a bit on the way to the beach.
Looks gorgeous right?
Looks gorgeous right?
This is such a storm waiting to happen at home.
This is such a storm waiting to happen at home. (And an immediate 180 turn from the picture above)

Turns out it was a good thing this wasn’t a storm, because I took my own sweet time getting home. I biked a bit farther than I would have liked in the process. I must have missed a sign, but oh well. It was probably 60km in total. Not all that horrible. Other than the bike not being quite set properly for me. It felt like my legs were rubbing on the seat a little, but I later realized they were rubbing on the nice metal part that holds the seat because the seat was pushed waaayyyyy too far back. I’ll probably be left with some nice scars from that forever. Luckily almost no one will see them.

I biked by the windmills along the edge of the town on my way back. Pretty cool. Some were blocked off, most weren’t.

IMG_3460

My map had told me that a bar at another hostel hosted English language trivia on Wednesday nights, so I was planning to head there around 7 (no idea what time it would have started). But I had an hour to kill. So park and cider and my book it was. I got to see a barge go through the tiny canal bridge opening while I sat there. That was cool.

Headed to the bar, asked the bar tenders about this trivia (which thankfully by then I’d realized my map was 2 years old), and they told me that that’s not a thing. Oh well, I figured I’d grab a drink anyways. Seemed like good drink deals. And they had wifi (oh the little things).

This was a great choice as a bit later some guys sit down near me, later joined by a few American ladies and we end up chatting. We ended up discussing the Brugge bar crawl. This night they were heading to Gent for the festival I mentioned before. That sounded a bit too risky (trains do stop at some point) and I was tired. We all agreed that we should do the one the next night. It leaves at 8:45, so meeting time was set to 8 at the bar. Everyone sounded excited, but making plans like this is still such a weird thing to me. I headed home on my bike and hoped this was something I could do tomorrow.

Day 36: I’m the wrong age for Brugge

I’d heard of a free walking tour in Brugge from people I met in Amsterdam on the walking tour there. Looking up the tour, there were two options, one at 9:45 and one at 2:00. It was 9:35 when I looked this up at my hostel. I figured with my bike I could book it and only be a little late. Luckily this turned out to be true, I got there around 9:50 and the guide was still there. This was a guy who decided at the beginning of summer that there seemed to be no Brugge tours, and he’d been a history guy, and grew up in Brugge, and he decided to do tours. This was my first tour not done by New Sandemans, so if you’re ever in Brugge, check out the Legends of Brugge tour (or his Trip Advisor Page). <<<Side note: these might try to send you to the page from France. Oops. That’s where I am and it’s a too much work to look up the correct USA links right now. Maybe I’ll correct it in the future>>>

We learned some good bits about the town and the history. And of course you see the best sites of the town. I was oddly fascinated by the swans. The legend is that Brugge has to keep long neck swans in their canals for eternity for killing someone with the last name “Longneck” when they were trying to not be under the darn Hapsburg control. The result when the eventually lost was that they had to get rid of their city walls and keep the swans.

Such pretty birds
Such pretty birds, still think they look funny when sleeping.

At the end of the tour you get to go try some chocolates at a chocolate shop, and a local beer at one of the restaurants. Pretty sweet deal.

After this I headed to the old time museum, which was to show how people lived in the past. Well, that was a disappointment. It was nothing I hadn’t seen before and wasn’t that great of a museum display. Bummer. The shoe maker display was probably the most interesting part.

After this I headed over to the Jerusalem Church which according to my old map was where you got tickets for the lace center, which was really what I was interested in. As long as I can remember my grandmother had a half done lace in her house. I’m not sure she ever actually did any work on it while I was alive, but I’d seen it forever. I found out from my mom that she’d learned to do bobbin lace in Brugge when my grandparents lived in Brussels. So I had to go.

This was part of a piece that was roughly 3 feet across, a foot wide.
This was part of a piece that was roughly 3 feet across, a foot wide.

The Lace Center is now a separate entrance. They have a bit on the history of lace and why no one makes it by hand any more. They also had an electronic demonstration where you could try your hand at lace making. You weren’t actually following a pattern but it taught you the different movements required to make lace.

Yay for computers!
Yay for computers!

They also had a demonstration center where people were making lace. Essentially it was a giant classroom where they could work on their lace, which someone who clearly seemed to be ahead of everyone else and would help them out when they got stuck. Now lace is made with all sorts of colors and fancy strings, and done by people who have the time and desire to learn. It used to be made by the lowest of low class women as a way to earn extra income while they were home, and paid very, very little. It is super interesting. And when I have time to take on more crafts, maybe I’ll learn this one. That might be never.

After this I headed back to the city center area and walked around for a bit, got some ice cream, checked out a few shops, and SCHEDULED MY HAIR CUT. I ran into this salon that looked like the right type of place and went it. Luckily the woman had time tomorrow at 3, and I had no plans so every time worked. Scheduled.

Wandered back to my hostel for a quick break.

Then I headed over to the Bauhaus hostel to meet for the bar crawl. Lucky for me, everyone else that is traveling also seems to be good at this whole meet at the designated time thing. It’s still a little mind blowing because that’s so not normal at home.

This was not a bar crawl like the other one I went on. This one he rounded us up outside the bar, across the street in a little plaza, and gave us a quick run-down. No selfies, no duck faces, all your shots come from him. Ummm… okay? Then he opened his back pack to reveal like 10 bottles of booze. Well then.

So. You're ready right?
So. You’re ready right?

So we started right there, and then got a token for a drink back at the bar in the Bauhaus Hostel.  Cool deal. Overall, it was a lot of fun, and totally hit the places I would love to spend a night. I guess not too surprising because Brugge is a small town so there’s no crazy wild places to go for the most part. This was when I learned that the girls from the night before were 18… and from the US… so didn’t get the you’re 16 and drink with your parents learning bit. Oops.

We went to one bar that did shots of Jenevier, which is essentially liquoir, but stronger. Very tasty. We did end at a club. This was where I’m happy to be an American, because I have never had to pay for water for someone at a bar before (nor the toilets). That’s very annoying. They’re drunk, they need water, it should be free. But of course not. Oh well. Ah to be young again.

The belfry by night
The belfry by night. Some things are more fun to see in the dark.

Day 37: Classic Brugge

I started my day off by climbing the belfry. I seem to have some love for stair climbing in the morning. This one however came with a line and a hilarious warning. Check out this sign.

DSCN5670
It’s mostly the “significant physical effort” and “right shoes” bit that got me.

Now, mind you, most towers I have gone up they simply sell you your ticket and let you off. Brugge is a popular enough tourist spot that they only allow a certain number of people up at a time. So the line forms, and you get to go when someone else comes down.

There were a couple different stops with some info, some bells, pretty much the normal. This belfry was built by the people of the city to show that they had the money and power to build tall things. Always funny. But I guess when everyone wants to rule over you, you have to do something.

The best part about the warnings at the bottom are that this was the easiest climb, with the biggest stairs, of any I’ve climbed yet.

One view, of many.
One view, of many.

After this I headed over to the chocolate museum. It covered the history of chocolate, how it’s made, how it came to Belgium, and a demonstration. Nothing really that I hadn’t understood before. It did have a bit on the different companies that make Belgian chocolate which was interesting. Particularly because I’d been told that Leonidas was an American company, and not really that good or some place you should go. Wrong. It was started by an American, but in Belgium and just as historically Belgian as the rest. Delicious too.

After this I ran over to get my hair cut. So nice to have that hair off my neck. I wasn’t entirely surprised when the hair cut ran like everything else does time wise. Get there when you should, they’ll eventually get to you. But even with what seemed like a horribly slow pace, it was only 45 minutes. No worse than home. I was analyzing after the first pass and she and thought I was thinking shorter in front because it was still long, but no, classic me, wanted it shorter yet in back. So nice to have zero on my neck. It turned out great. So happy.

After this I wandered around town (aka buying more chocolate) and checked out the cathedral. There was a concert going on so I didn’t get to see much, but I guess it didn’t matter much as it looked like every other cathedral.

One of the things to see in Brugge is the Michelangelo Madonna and Child statue in their church, but the church is under construction, and there’s only so many ways to portray the Virgin Mary and Jesus, so I decided to pass.

The rest of my night was spent being a bum and writing the previous blog posts.

Day 34 – Brussels National Day

Today (21 July) is the Belgium National Holiday. The most common phrase I’ve seen is La Libre (The Freedom) which makes sense as this is the day of Belgium Independence. I can’t remember the exact number of years, but it’s a lot shorter than one would think. We often forget that while these places have an enormously long history, the actual country designations haven’t always been as long. If memory serves me (almost two weeks now… oops) it was the freedom from the Hapsburg dynasty which was, at the end, an Austrian and Spanish dynasty. Ruling families in Europe are amazingly difficult to follow.

So this being a holiday, which I hadn’t planned on, I was limited in my museum options. Luckily, the Musical Instruments Museum was open, which was my top choice. I got there a bit before they opened. I’ve never figured out metro timing, I’m always either late or early, rarely there when I plan to be there. Better to be early. This is even true when I’m at home and am only taking the single green line train.

The museum has audio guides. Which are different than the audio guides you get at most museums. These ones play the instrument in the case when you get close (some sort of NFC technology for the guides). I’m not sure why I have zero pictures from this museum. I thought a lot of it was really cool, but I guess I didn’t want to document it for anyone else. You’ll just have to go some day when you’re in Brussels.

My favorite was seeing instruments that eventually evolved into modern instruments. There were a couple that surprised me in the slight differences. The clarinet used to have a single reed on the top of the mouth piece. But more interesting, the old, old saxophones had double reeds. And there used to be a lot more double reed instruments.

After the museum I grabbed a bite and drink at their cafe (they sucked me in with the roof top bit).

DSCN5628

I could see where all the festivities were going to take place before I got into the museum but seeing it from above was pretty cool.

I left the museum and headed over to the park which was all set up for the day. Pretty much food and drink stands and games for children. I am not yet over the French fry thing, and figured the stands that get to be at the park for this day must be some of the best, right? So I grabbed some. I’ve noticed it’s pretty normal to get two sauces with your fries, and if you don’t get mayo you’re weird. I actually tried to get mayo and curry (a spicy sauce, but not curry like indian curry), but they were out, so mayo and ketchup it was.

Frites!
Frites!

I stayed in the park too long to get to see any other bits, which were set up down a couple other streets nearby. The park normally has a fence around, except for a few entrances. This isn’t a problem until there’s a billion people all in and around the park. I was planning to head out before the start of the parade, or more accurately, an HOUR before it was to start. What I didn’t know is that the royal family goes down the parade route roughly 45 minutes before the parade, so everyone was lined up well before I was planning to head out.

I didn’t try to fight my way to see the royalty, just seemed like a lot of work. I went back into the park and grabbed a sangria (yeah, sangria was available, for 3 euro, sweet deal). Luckily I’ve been toting my book around a lot. Grabbed a seat on some grass. I did get to see the Police band come right by me.

IMG_3444

The parade was listed as a military parade, which I didn’t really get. I mean, think of the 4th of July parades. There’s all sorts of things, but there’s military in there too most of the time. So I figured that’s what they meant. Nope. Just military (not that I was super close). Troops and vehicles. The cool part was they did a couple different fly overs. I wasn’t situated in the best spot to see them, but it was a couple different military planes and helicopters.

I had been slightly amused to see American military at the displays in the park, but I guess we have military everywhere right?

IMG_3442

Anyways, I finally managed to get out of the park, to the metro and back to my hostel. I had plans of heading back to watch the fireworks, but those didn’t pan out once I realized how nice it was to not be surrounded by tons of people.

I did however get to break into the cuberdons I bought at the park. They are a national candy, of which a specific flavor is the normal, but they make all kinds of flavors. The national flavor isn’t really some thing I can describe except to say it’s good (unlike the Danish candy flavor). The pictures are of a passion flavored cuberdon (passion fruit). It is entirely soft, but the outer coating is a thicker candy than the middle, and a bit less sticky. I think the pictures might do a better job than I can. I lucked out when buying them that the woman spoke English, but she couldn’t even explain it, and just gave me one to try. I would love to figure out how to make them.

Cuberdons

I tried to not devour them all in one day. Off to bed as the next day was a travel day! Off to Brugge!

Day 33 – Gent briefly, Parliamentarium

So the hostel nicely had maps for all the smaller towns around the area. I had grabbed one for Gent and one for Brugge (I’m sticking with those spellings, too many options, have to pick one). They’re of the Use-It variety, which I’ve found a couple other places and really enjoyed some of their suggestions. They say they are the maps/guides for the young traveler. Anyways, the one for Gent told me that the castle and cathedral are both open on Mondays. Score. That’s what I wanted to see there.

The joy of being able to take as many trains as I want with that Eurail pass. Just hopped on and suddenly you’re there.

Gent hosts a large festival around the Belgium National Holiday (21 July, tomorrow) called Gentse Feesten. Lots of concerts, carnival type things set up, etc. I’d equate it to the state fair at home.

Anyways, that was all set up, but at 10am, not much was going on. That was fine, large crowds of people speaking a foreign language when you’re by yourself is not a particularly fun activity.

I got to the castle, which not surprisingly, looks like a castle. What’s weird is that it is is pretty much in the middle of town now.

DSCN5633

DSCN5631

 

As noted by this view from somewhere up top of the castle, where you can see all the festival tents set up right below.

DSCN5628

I enjoyed the castle tour. After that I wandered over to the cathedral.

DSCN5640

It gave me a pretty good laugh when I got there and saw this. It’s a nice historical place. One of the top listed things to see in Gent. But currently, it’s also home to the biggest stage area. The door is right behind the stage actually. The cathedral is giant, but there really wasn’t much you haven’t seen before. A lot of really old artifacts from the church of the area. It was nice that you could go down into the crypt area. And they had a nice explanation of the time line of evolution of the crypt. And there are a lot of large side areas where if you’re really rich, or famous, or something, you can have your grave there, all separate from where everyone walks. The name for that is escaping me.

After this I headed out to find some fries. I’ve been looking to find “the best” fries. So far nothing had totally wow-ed me. So I followed my trusty map off to a couple different fry places. One was closed on Mondays. One was closed from 2-4 (I got there at 2:15). No fries for me. But amusing that in this walking I ended up in this wide open plaza with nothing in it, while the rest of the town is packed. It’s really not far away.

DSCN5641

Caught the train back to Brussels and headed up to the Parliamentarium. Part of the head of the EU Government is in Brussels, and being there, I figured I should check it out. It also has a visitor center that explains about the evolution of the EU. I found this very interesting. I was sad that I hadn’t left myself more time to spend there (I got there around 4, they close at 6, free entry!).

DSCN5648

 

Since wandering around and checking out parks appears to be something I enjoy, it wont surprise anyone that I decided to check out the large park in the uppertown area near the parliament buildings. (Side note, unlike Minneapolis, the upper and lower town areas here make sense, upper town is on top of the hill, lower town isn’t)

There’s this awesome building in the park. What I could gather from signs is that it was built for the centennial celebration. That could be wrong, don’t go quoting me. What I do know is it had museums in it now, and that it is an energy neutral building. Funny what the signs in the park tell you and what they don’t.

IMG_3433

Hopped the metro back home from there. That was enough for one day.

Days 9 and 10 – Sognefjord, Bøyabreen Glacier, and more Bergen

Day 8

We took the Sognefjord Tour, which starts in Bergen and travels from the ocean side in on the Sognefjord. This is the same fjord which has a small inland end at Flåm. We took an express boat from Bergen, which also functions as a ferry, but only for people and stuff, no cars or anything like that. It stops at a lot of towns, but not all of them. Riding in this boat is, as my mom describes it “like being in your living room.” It is an extremely smooth ride and there’s plenty of space. But really, you’re flying through the water. No idea how fast they actually go, but it’s quick.

We spent around 4 hours on this boat, to get off at Balestrand, to get immediately onto another, smaller, boat. This boat took us to Fjærland, which is the town closest to the glacier. We jumped onto a bus that was waiting, and had a brief stop at the glacier museum, before heading out to the glacier. I thought they were joking when they said the glacier was close to town, but it’s no more than a 15 minute drive.

IMG_3224

As you can see, it’s quite a pretty place. The glacier seen here is the Bøyabreen Glacier, which is part of the largest glacier on the European continent, the Jostedalsbreen Glacier. The Bøyabreen Glacier used to extend a lot farther than it does today (even 200 years ago it was essentially in the town). There are so many cool things that I learned about glaciers at the museum that I want to share, but that’s a lot of brain dump and I’m sure not interesting to anyone else. If it is, you’ll just have to make a Norway trip.

We then repeated the sequence to get there, in reverse, to get home. Sadly, we didn’t get to spend any time in any of the towns we stopped in.

Day 9

We spent our final day in Bergen wandering around and looking at the museums we didn’t get to on the previous day in town.

This included a new Fisheries Museum, which was interesting, but could have had SO much more information. Fishing has been and still is a HUGE part of Norway’s economy and I know there’s more information out there than the tiny bit in the museum. The cool part though was that the museum was in an old fish warehouse, similar to the Hanseatic League museum.

Then we went to the Maritime Museum. This had a lot of cool information about ships from the viking age to the modern. However, it was under construction and therefore lacking a lot of information, particularly in English. This could be great to see in a couple years when it is back up and running like normal.

We made it over to the Leprosy Museum for our final stop of the day. This museum is in what used to be the Hospital. This hospital was built specifically to house lepers, when that’s what happened to people. The hospital used to be in the boonies, but is now located right in the city center area. Interesting to see, but didn’t end up covering a whole lot that I didn’t know from the book Moloka’i which I read a bit back. See the link for more info.

After that, it was time for some laundry. I was lucky enough that our Airbnb host agreed to let me do a load of laundry. However, in my poor planning, I did not do this early enough. I forget that Europe seems to not use dryers at all. So not all my clothes were dry by morning. Oops. Lesson learned.


Day 8

Steps: 7093 (lots of boat sitting)

Floors: 17

Day 9

Steps: 16,670

Floors: 40