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.

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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 31 and 32 – Around Brussels

So before I jump into my full days in Brussels, I need to include a bit from the first night I got to town.

I was chilling around the hostel, doing some much needed laundry, when I met my roommate. Another woman traveling alone. She was looking to head down to the Grand Place, but wasn’t sure about heading there alone and was looking around for other single travelers when I showed up. Lucky for me!

I had heeded the suggestion that I should really check out the Grand Place at night, preferably before seeing it in the day (Thanks Uncle Alan). So off we went. I think we were finally ready and collected to head out around 11. So not a normal thing for me.

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Belgium is one of the countries where you can drink where ever and whenever you want. So once we got to the square and realized that everyone was just sitting around drinking and smoking (seems like everyone here smokes), we headed over to a night shop (what I’ve now learned it’s called, at the time, it was an open store). We picked up something to drink and planted ourselves in the square with everyone else.

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We hung around for a bit, it started to rain and everyone ran for cover around the buildings by the square. Then we finished the cider we had, and decided to head some where to grab a drink. Which some how turned into picking up food and a bottle of wine and heading home. The upside is with only the two of us, this was something that sounded awesome to us and that’s how it happened. We were the only two in our room and so it was easy to head back and chow down there.

Day 31

Lucky for me, Aurea (pronounced the same as Aria) had a lot of the same things on the want to do list as I did. So we wandered around together for the two days she was still in Brussels.

We started off with a walking tour. Always good for hitting up the main things. Like Mannekinpis.

Apparently he has hundreds of costumes
Apparently he has hundreds of costumes

And the cathedral. I never did make it back here to go inside. But perhaps there’s no need. Looks just like another one I’ll be visiting later.

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The other awesome thing about these tours continues to be the good suggestions for places to go or eat. Particularly when you ask about something specific. So a bunch of us were looking for fries (2pm, what else are you going to eat). We all headed over to the place recommended, sadly, closed for about a month.

Instead Aurea and I headed off to find some chocolate. Our hostel reception had pointed out a good area to go for stores. There’s no pictures of this. But perhaps I will manage to gain weight on my trip because, yum. A couple places in the area also had macarons. Also tasty. Still no pictures.

We then wandered around to find fries. Because try as we might, chocolate does not make a meal to fill you up. I think I’m converted to the mayonnaise with fries thing. But they also have a ton of other sauce options, all the ones I’ve had have been good. Way more interesting than ketchup, and I love ketchup.

Back to the hostel for dinner and resting. Because staying out late isn’t easy when you’re old.

Day 32

There was a flea market that Aurea had found out about. And I’m always curious about local markets. So off we went. Took the metro, got off at the correct stop, but that didn’t make it any easier to find the right little square we were looking for. And then some more rain.

Pretty much a flea market is the same every where I guess. All sorts of junk that the owner doesn’t need that they hope someone else thinks they need and will pay money for. There were some super cute boots that would have been hard to resist had then been in my size. The one time small feet are not a good thing is when you’re looking second hand.

But really, this is what one place had for their offerings:

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Piles and piles of random metal bits. I guess this could be interesting to dig through if you’re trying to restore a house or something. There was also a lot of clothes. Which just seems weird to buy at an outdoor market. Aurea left after the market, so back to being on my own.

I headed down to the Grand Place to catch a tour of the Town Hall. Turns out you can only go on the hour, as part of a tour group. The next tour in English wasn’t for another 4 hours. Bought my ticket. Then had to decide what else I wanted to do.

Having gotten a day pass for the metro, I decided to head out to the Atomium. It was built for the world fair. I ended up deciding not to wait in line to go inside. The line was long, it was cold and raining, and I hadn’t brought my rain coat for the day. And had opted for shorts. Always fun trying to figure out if the forecast is actually going to be correct. Not this day.

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You can go inside the balls. But most of what you get is a view over the city. And I was a bit over the whole idea of a view over the city when it’s all gloomy. Been there, done that. And this one was some amount of money way more than was worth it.

So I hopped the metro back into the city center. Stopped and grabbed some food for a picnic, because by this point it decided to be sunny again (and there are actual picnic tables in the street). Found some gluten free pasta and bread at the store, which I wasn’t looking for, but couldn’t pass up. It’s very annoying to carry food around from place to place, but it’s also getting old having no bread to go with breakfast when that’s so how European breakfasts are focused. So purchased all the deliciousness and off I went. Even expensive gluten free pasta is a a cheap meal.

Headed back to the town hall for the tour. An interesting building, a great story about the building, probably the worst tour I’ve been on. Earlier trying to buy my ticket was a confusing mess, and then the entire tour just didn’t have a ton of substance. Oh well. It is another one of those places that is still an actively used place of government, so it’s a lot of offices that aren’t interesting and not included on the tour. So the tour seems short for such a giant building.

Back to the hostel for dinner (pasta!) and to plan what to do for the next day. Turns out pretty much everything in Brussels is closed on Mondays (tourist things at least, similar to other big cities).

 

Days 23 and 24 – Travel and Amsterdam

Day 23

I spent my morning on trains getting to Amsterdam. Hamburg station was interesting as all announcements were in German only. Luckily, signs telling you a time and a direction/city read the same in all languages. I was waiting on my correct platform ready to go when some announcement comes on. Everyone else is now hurrying to somewhere else. I figure they can’t all be wrong and so I follow them. Our train had moved platforms. All good.

I was happy that I paid the ~$5 to make a reservation for my second train. There were people sitting in all sorts of odd places, like the floor. A reservation gets you a seat spot :).

Off the train, to my hostel. Amazingly, didn’t have any difficulty finding this one!

Checked in, showered (I always just feel dirty after traveling), and then wandered around the city for a bit. The hostel is located right on a canal in one of the older row houses in the city center.

I took a walk around Amsterdam then grabbed a seat by the canal for some people watching and book reading. Relaxing is always an important part of any vacation!

Day 24

I decided to start off my visit with a walking tour. I’ve been enjoying them so far and they often have useful information! Additionally, the tour guides are usually great at suggesting things you should do in the city.

After the walking tour, I went to rent a bike. It seemed to be the only real way to get around the city, unless I wanted to walk every where. Not the most organized place, but I rented my bike just fine. The place I went has navy blue bikes, so perhaps I wouldn’t stick out like a total tourist. Most rental places have obnoxious colored bikes, while all the locals seem to have black.

My Bike
My Bike

My guide in the morning had mentioned that there was a brewery that was located in a windmill in the city area. So I decided I would bike out there. Of course, not for the beer, just for the experience and the windmill!

Well lets just say that my direction sense on a bike in Amsterdam isn’t so great. After a few wrong turns, or missed turns, I did end up finding where I was going.

Pretty cool, not sure if this is an original windmill or anything though.
Pretty cool, not sure if this is an original windmill or anything though.

I then decided I should check out a bit more of Amsterdam, especially since it was a very nice day out. So I biked around to the park (vondelpark) and past the museums which I was intending to go to the next day. My hope was that by biking there now, I wouldn’t get lost the next day.

The park was nice, but for the only major park in Amsterdam, none too large. And everyone was there. The place was packed. Perhaps it is just because I am used to the Cities where there are a million parks and you can pick many of them and be almost alone. That doesn’t work so well when there is only one large park I guess.

On an unrelated note, check out the dock for this boat:

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Day 1 and 2 – Iceland!

We made it! Mom and I decided to cut our flight a little close as we were sitting and having a relaxing glass of wine at the airport, but we got on just fine. Oops. I’m always a fan of uneventful flights, this was one of them. Some sleeping, some trying to sleep, and then we were magically in Iceland.

Off we go to the Blue Lagoon!
Off we go to the Blue Lagoon!

Stop number one was the Blue Lagoon. Perhaps not the best at handling groups all arriving at once, but once inside it was worth the waiting. I’m not crazy enough to have brought my camera into the pool with me. I thought the photos of the blue water were lying however, so had to take one at the entrance.

Yep, it's really blue.
Yep, it’s really blue.

Off to lunch in Reykjavik before heading to meet up with our Airbnb host. We made a quick stop at the Hallgrimskirkja as it was close by. I hope to make time for an actual visit. This is the church on the highest point in Reykjavik, which at least means we can look to it to find our way home if we get lost.

Hallgrimskirkja

A little walk by the harbor side on our way to dinner and a nice walk home afterwards. Sleeping time as traveling is never restful.

Today (Saturday) we were booked for a Golden Circle Tour. Pick up was “bright and early” at 830. (Mind you, everything is bright here, regardless of the time)

This tour was absolutely amazing. We got to see some water falls, the geysers and the transatlantic ridge (where the two tectonic plates are separating). We lucked out with some extraordinary weather. Even the guide was commenting this was the nicest day of the year so far. Check out all the pictures below. Too many to add them all separately!

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Back home and off to dinner in a bit now. It looks to be as amazing of weather tomorrow as it was today.


Yes, I know some of those pictures are showing up sideways. I’m sure I could fix it, but I’m going to enjoy my travels instead. Too much work!