Thursday, May 31, 2012

Two Cities, Day 4: Amsterdam

I arrived in Amsterdam by train on a beautiful day. My hostel was easy to find and in a beautiful neighborhood, the Jordaan district - which is the richer side of town.

Went to the Heineken Restaurant for my first dinner in the Netherlands. The first place in Europe I found that had a real veggie burger (not just a slab of lightly browned tofu)!

Because I still had much of the day left, I decided to stop at Anne Frank Huis, which is a five minute walk from the hostel.

Westerkerk, next door to Anne Frank's hiding place. 

The Frank's hiding place was at 263 Prinsengracht, the building where Otto Frank's business was located. 

The line up was around the side of the building, and only grew while I was standing there. 

No pictures were allowed, so I only got a few.

This is the bookcase and area where the Frank family and friends would enter their secret hiding place. To get in, it required a big step up and ducking. The eight people lived in the three upper floors of the building. 

I know you can't see anything, but this is where Anne and her sister, Margot, measured their heights on the wall while they were living here. 

This museum brought me to tears. It was so powerful and amazing. What this family and their friends went through to survive Nazi invasion was astonishing.

The Academy Award won for the performance of Shelley Winters as Mrs. Van Daan in The Diary of Anne Frank. She donated her Oscar to the Anne Frank Museum. 

Outside view of the house. The solid cement thing on the end is actually built around the home. It was built to protect it from bombing and damage. The rumor is that the threat of bombing comes from people who don't believe the Holocaust actually happened. 

Another view of one of the canals. 

Dessert at the hostel. A traditional Dutch thing, sadly I don't remember what it's called. It was just like vanilla pudding with some chocolate sprinkles (I don't think the sprinkles are traditional). 

The buildings were amazing! Do you see the tilt on that one red house?!

My first day in Amsterdam was quite a success. Anne Frank's hiding place really brought home the realities of Hitler's regime, which stretched much farther than Germany.

Two Cities, Day 3: Brussels

Finally hit up the super touristy areas of Brussels. It was nice to hear more English than usual and enjoy the sunshine, although it was chilly.

This is the Rathaus at the Grote Markt / Grand Place. 
It's a fifteenth century Town Hall, rebuilt after a French bombardment in 1695. 

Side view of the townhall (Rathaus)

I think a wedding had just finished when I was walking through the Markt, so I took a picture!

1,25 euro for a wonderful Belgian waffle!! So good. This is a can't miss type of opportunity. 

This is from the Brussels tourist map I have:
Learn the difference. A real Brussels waffle is square, and a LiĆ©geois is round and caramelised. You put sugar on top of a Brussels one, and nothing on a LiĆ©geois (the sugar is baked into it). If you want the real thing: look for a place with lots of grannies (they always go for the real thing). If you really want to look like a tourist: order extra chocolate or strawberry. 
This one did actually have a lot of grannies around it, and they swarmed after I bought one, but they were speaking English, so I don't think it really indicated a "real Brussels waffle".

Manneken Pis
His suit is changed a few times per month, always by a guy called Jean-Marc. 

Mannekin Pis

Just walking down a nice street and this street lead to a giant dome. Still not sure where or what it is. 

It's possible that this is Kapellekerk la Chapelle, but I'm not sure. 

You can find shoes hanging from wires everywhere!

Statue next to the church pictured above. 

At Place Royale Konings Plein. I'm not sure what this building is - it could be the side of the Royal Palace. 

This is the actually Place Royale Konings Plein. 

Side angle of the Royal Place on Place des Palais. At most palaces, when the flag is raised, the prince(ss) is home, so it's possible I was near royalty! :)

Back at Place Royale Konings Plein. 

In front of the Royal Palace. 
Had to smile awkwardly because of swollen lip. 

Still the Royal Palace. 

Right down this street on the right, I found a wonderful cafe with all fresh foods and drinks. So yummy!

At Place du Trone Troonplein. 

A restaurant called People. Soylent Green, anyone?

My next stop was the music museum, which has the largest collection of instruments in the world. In French (Belgium has two official languages of French and Dutch) it's called Musee des Instruments de Musique. In Dutch it is Muziekinstrumentenmuseum (yes, all one word, which is very similar to the German way of smashing words together to make a new word).

You walked around the museum with headphones and at each instrument, there was a panel to plug them in so you could listen to each instrument. It was amazing!

Wow, super awkward. 

This is a Cathedral at Place Sainte-Gudule (French), AKA Sint Goedele Plein (Dutch). 

I walked this way around because there was a metro station close by, and it was the first one where there was no regulation of whether you punched your ticket before going in (like a turnstile). But I punched it anyways, it's never good to break rules in foreign countries! Although I break the "no pictures" rule all the time!

It was so much fun to just be around Belgian people. They are very welcoming and friendly, even though I often couldn't speak with them. Belgium is a wonderful place to visit and enjoy.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Two Cities, Day 2: Brussels

This was my first full day in Brussels and I saw everything I wanted to on my list for the day, even with my limp. My first stop was the top floor of a parking garage. It had a fabulous view:

The top (10th) floor of Parking 58 view. 

View toward the other side. 

I started walking around outside of the parking garage, in the opposite direction I came and found this beautiful church:


Tried to find a tourism office that, turns out, closed for the day a half hour earlier. But I found some beautiful sights.

This might be Place de la Monnaie Muntplein. 
Not sure. 

Nothing special about this picture, I just like it, and it's not even high quality. 

Didn't expect to see a drug sign until I got to Amsterdam, but there we go (and they don't even label them drug shops, but coffee shops). 

And this street had a ton of construction going on. In one of the areas that the road was ripped up and there was some smooth dirt, two men were playing boccie ball. Reminded me of Boulevard Park, in an odd way. 

Somewhat sure that this is the stock exchange Beurs/Bourse. 

Possibly the same building but from the other side. Really not sure. 

Could just see the Rathaus at Grote Markt/Grand Place that I really explored the next day. 

Front door of a church. 

Same church. 

Apparently fries were invented by the Belgians and this is something that you can't miss while you're in Brussels -- or anywhere in Belgium. These fries were excellent!

Chocolate shops everywhere! And yes, I tried some Belgian chocolate! 
Just takes a little effort with a split/swollen lip. 

My first day wandering around was quite successful and I really enjoyed the Belgians. It's a completely different culture from France and I ran into many tourists. This was a wonderful day

Monday, May 14, 2012

Two Cities, Day 1: Brussels

If you haven't read my Faceplant post, you should before reading this next bit.

I got on the train a littlebit before it left after buying a new water bottle; I had cleaned the blood off my face, washed the dirt and blood off my hands and my body was aching. With all this going on my emotions were kind of shooting all over the place. I didn't even try to find my seat, I just sat where I felt comfortable.

A woman came up to me, and I'm sure I was in her seat, but she started speaking French to me. I couldn't even tell her that I don't understand French or that I only speak English or that I speak a little French (all of which I can say in French to express the language barrier). The waterworks started. I'm sure I looked pitiful! She immediately reassured me that it wasn't bad, "pas grave" in French. She said this over and over and sat in the seat across the aisle from me.

I then realized that my phone plan here allows for free calling to the US and that at 5am it was about 8pm at home. I called my parents' house and the whole family was there. It was great to get the story out and, yes, as lame as I feel admitting it now, I was reading Psalm 23 -- like I was anywhere near the valley of the shadow of death *pfft*. We talked for a bit and then I went back to my bible and tried to forget what happened.

I changed trains in Toulouse to head farther south to Rodez. While on that train, I found it was high quality, clean and the controllers checked tickets after almost every stop. A controller asked me for my ticket, in French, which is no biggie for this situation. I handed him my email print out of the ticket. Then he starts telling me something, but he doesn't speak English and it was too complicated for my limited knowledge of French. The woman sitting across from me spoke both so she translated.

Turns out, my tickets were not real tickets, they were confirmations but it meant that I could pretend I wasn't on the train and get a refund for a ride that I actually got. So he was going to charge me twenty euro for a real ticket -- but I would get a ten euro refund at the station. I tried to explain what had happened on my bike. Just thinking on it and the explanation made me cry. And then my nose started bleeding again. Blood dripped on my jeans (again) and on the table. I asked if I could go to the toilet and pay for the ticket when I got back.

He felt awful, said yes, and they kept telling me 'pas grave' and I was nodding, knowing I was overreacting and having no way to say that I'm a wimp and emotional so just ignore the tears.

Well, he charged me for the new ticket and I finally got to Rodez. Which is a tiny town and only has taxis to take you to the airport, which was 20 euro. I believe it was ten or eleven am when I got there. A pretty eventful day, that wasn't over.

I flew in to Brussels Charleroi, took a one hour bus trip into the city, caught the subway to my hostel and asked if there was a movie theater nearby. I wanted to park my ass down and watch something entertaining for a while. The man at the frontdesk was very kind and printed off the movie schedule for the weekend and told me about a restaurant nearby that was 'self-serve' (this means something different in every country, it seems like), which meant that you could see everything before you bought it. I didn't quite get what he meant until I got there.

The restaurant was like a deli, but way better! All of their foods were made there and were sitting on cold shelves to keep them fresh. And they specifically labeled vegan and vegetarian items. The ingredients list included recognizable foods! Not chemicals and mystery products. Here was my dinner:

Dinner at EXKI, probably the some of the best food I've ever had!
The pasta was some sort of curry, but with dried mango bits that gave it the perfect amount of sweetness. 

When the movie finished it was dark, so I headed back to the hostel for the night. Day 2 in Brussels is coming soon!