Monday, May 21, 2012

Nice, Amsterdam, Cologne!

Our trip to Nice was very relaxing, which translates to not much to say. It was a lot of sleeping in, lying on the beach (didn't burn!), hanging out with our new friends at the hostel, and swimming in the ridiculously blue water.
We shall never speak of the train ordeal from Nice to Amsterdam... 250 euros and 24 hours, enough said. However, it was worth the trip. Amsterdam is beautiful! The weather was lovely, the canals were cool, and the hotel we snagged for cheap was super nice. We took it pretty easy here, visiting Anne Frank house and the Van Gogh Museum, but not doing too much else in the way of attractions. We did go to the Hard Rock Cafe... our craving for meat combined with the promise of free hot fudge sundaes made it impossible to resist.
Anne Frank's house was really cool, as well as depressing. No pictures inside, but it was barely furnished - her dad requested it be left as the Nazis left it. The videos interviewing Anne's dad and childhood friend were extremely moving. The only disappointment was that the actual diary was being restored or something, so we could only see a facsimile.
The next day we did the Van Gogh Museum, which was super cool. It had a ton of Van Gogh obviously (Almond Blossoms was on loan though, to Ottawa of all places!), but also both his influences and those influenced by him. A really cool collection. It was surrounded by a nice park as well, so we laid out there and relaxed in the sun for a bit before dinner.
From Amsterdam we took an easy train to Cologne, and it turns out the girl we met on the platform in Amsterdam and befriended on the train was in our very room in Cologne! We've been hanging out with her, which has been really nice. The first night we went to stroll around the famous Cathedral, and realized it was some kind of Museum festival, and we got into a museum nearby for free. It was a super weird modern art museum... Warhol, Picasso, Lichtenstein, etc. It was a good thing we went because the next day was a Monday. We hadn't even been thinking about days of the week, but of course everything is closed Mondays.
So we didn't do much for our one full day in Cologne. Just checked out the inside of the Cathedral (amazing!), the SUPER cool pixilated stained glass window, climbed the million steps to the top of the tower (one of the tallest churches in the world!), and went out to a biergarten for some sausages and local beer.
Next is Berlin, where I hope to finally shake the brutal cough/cold that has been demolishing me since Amsterdam.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

France: Paris, Chartres

The chunnel arrived in Paris quickly, and our hostel was easy to find. In the Montmartre area, it was only a short walk to Sacre Couer, and we took advantage of this and walked to it on our first day. The view from the top is pretty spectacular – you realize when you’re anywhere else in Paris it seems to be the highest point. The inside of the church is spectacular. I didn’t take any pictures out of respect, but that didn’t stop other obnoxious tourists from taking photos WITH flash AND loud camera shutter noise. Oh well. We sat on the steps outside and listened to guy with a guitar play awesome covers of Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Beatles, and Bruce Springsteen for a while, and then headed home.
This was the end of relaxing time in Paris, however, and the next few days were crammed with stuff: One of the four main cemeteries of Paris was a five minute walk from our hostel, and we went there to try to find Degas’ grave. Completely lost, it took a strange old man who fed the cemetery’s hundred cats to show us to the tomb. Ballerina poses mandetory.
Next was the Decorative Arts Museum, located very close to the Louvre. Normally I’d give this a miss, but they had a special ‘Histoires de Babar’ exhibit this summer. It was adorable! The best part was probably the museum attendant laughing at us when we asked “Ou est Babar?!”
That night we chowed down on escargot, pasta and wine. Doesn’t get much better than that! The next morning we visited another of Paris’s cemetary’s, Pere Lachaise. The list of graves we saw was fairly long… Jean de Brunhoff (creator of Babar!), Seurat (neo-Impressionist artist), David (history painter), Delacroix (more of the same), Oscar Wilde (…Oscar Wilde…), Edith Piaf (singer), Corot (painter), Ingres (painter), Gericault (painter), and Jim Morrison (The Doors).
As if that wasn’t enough walking, we decided it would be a great idea to go to the Eiffel Tower after. Also, walk up. It’s kindaaa tall…
After that, we continued our Art pilgrimage to the Louvre. We mostly breezed past the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa in favour of David’s Oath of the Horatii (pictured in awesome graveyard recreation above) and Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa. We ended up getting lost and going completely insane. I recommend keeping Louvre visits to under two hours if you don’t want to end up rolling around in the Tuilleries in hysterics.
On the last day, we started with Notre Dame Cathedral. We walked the spiral staircase to the top, seeing the huge bell and all the gargoyles and grotesques. It has a beautiful view as well, and the weather suddenly got very hot very fast. First sunburn of the trip, check!
Cathedral two for the day was Saint-Chapelle which is so full of stained glass, that it boggles the mind. And that’s before you remember that most of it is original from around 800 years ago.]
We then stopped to get lunch (Croque monsieur!!) before our last main stop of Paris, the Musee D’Orsay. My 19th century minor was made very happy with all of the Courbet, van Gogh, Seurat, Degas, Monet, Manet… etc. It’s a beautiful museum, but no photos allowed.
From Paris we took an hour train to spend a night in Chartres. It was a bit out of our way, and it was a disaster trying to find our hotel, but it turned out to be a great decision. The hotel ended up being 50 yards from the Cathedral (again, spectacular). The inside was being renovated and I think once the whole thing is back to its original white it will be even more breathtaking. We went back to our hotel, did laundry, and didn’t even feel like going out in the evening. We ended up going anyway and it was one of the coolest parts of the trip yet. It turns out that they have this Chartres en Lumieres thing where all the major landmarks of Chartres are lit up, most notably the Cathedral. It is accompanied by music and so well done, I don’t even know how to describe it except like Celebration of Lights in Vancouver, expect not crowded and even cooler. It's hard to capture how cool it is on camera but here goes anyway!
We headed to Nice in the south after that, and we leave from there to Amsterdam today. I don't really have time to blog about it now, and apparently I won't have wifi in Amsterdam but I'll do another catch-up when I get to Germany.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

London Calling

Have been too tired to blog up until now, but I finally have some time taking the train to Paris. We arrived in London safe and sound with no hitches… aside from me and my heavy pink suitcase being very jealous of Lisa’s backpack! Our hostel was decent, though we did the owners a favour by switching rooms which resulted in a rude maid kicking us out of bed after loud partying from the bar downstairs kept us awake until past 4am. Still, we eventually managed to sleep it off and see the sights of London.
Our first night in London, we went to see Train in concert. We were so tired that I didn’t think we would make it through the show, especially when the opening act was Matt Nathanson, who was excellent but his music was very slow and almost put me to sleep..zzz... But Train finally came on stage, and they definitely woke me up. Energetic and fun show for sure. Not to mention the very drunk, very hilarious mid-thirties male fans in front of us who belted out every lyric and took turns embarrassing each other with their antics.
As I try to think about the rest of the visit to the UK, it becomes painfully clear that we spent a good deal of the time shopping. But with Primark, Top Shop, and gigantic 4-storey versions of the stores from home, we can’t really be blamed, right? Don’t answer. Highlights include ridiculous jewellery from Top Shop and a little owl pillow which will never fit in my suitcase. That night we got the most delicious burgers from beside a pub. Everything is beside a pub. Or above a pub.
The following day we decided to start taking advantage of London’s free museums and visit the British Museum for our dose of artifacts. However, getting off the tube I realized that I accidentally snuck on, and the ticket-checker came over to me to deal with the problem. Luckily for me, he decided he would use the most ridiculous pick-up line I have ever heard, telling me the only thing wrong with my transit pass was that it “didn’t have my number” so how was he supposed to call me? A few eye-rolls later we escaped un-ticketed and laughed our way to the British Museum. I’ve been before, but it’s impossible to see it all. Highlights once we finally arrived were probably the Greek items – especially the pottery, as lame as that sounds. I just feel like it is some of the most impressive stuff to have survived from antiquity. I bought the obligatory souvenirs relating to Glaukon, Athena’s owl.
That night, we finally went for legit fish and chips… I decided to spring for sole, which I didn’t expect would come with the ENTIRE SKELETON STILL INSIDE THE FISH. My first bite had 6 bones in it. The chips were mercifully bone-less, however, and I managed to find a few morsels of fish from between the bones.
On the last day, we realized that we had done almost none of our sightseeing and our wallets were disturbingly light, so we decided a walking-tour of London was in order. First, we walked to the Millennium Bridge. You know, the one that gets destroyed in Harry Potter. It’s right beside the Tate Modern, which is a huge Modern Art Gallery built inside an old power station. It’s sort of creepy looking inside and out, and full of somewhat creepy modern art as well. There was a special exhibit on of Damien Hirst’s work… you know, the guy who pickled a big ol’ shark and named it “The Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living”? I think he’s done some sheep too, and possibly even some non-dead stuff but I’m not entirely sure. Anyway, we had to pay to get inside that part and we figured that almost 40 Canadian dollars to see a bunch of dead stuff made by a pretentious Englishman probably wasn’t worth it. We were able to view his other most famous work, however. After waiting about 10 minutes in a line, we were allowed into a tiny, dark room, with about 10 other people to see “For the Love of God”. This is a platinum cast of a skull, which is completely covered in diamonds and then fitted with the original skull’s teeth. Apparently it is meant to combine the ultimate symbol of death with the ultimate symbol of luxury and extravagance. Sort of an insult to death, I guess. I’m not sure, but I do know that it was a lot of diamonds.
Only a few minutes away is Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. We couldn’t go in without tickets, but it was cool to see. We then walked across the Millennium Bridge, which is a footbridge, over to St. Paul’s Cathedral. A pretty impressive Cathedral, though we couldn’t really go inside as it was a Sunday. Our walk then took us along the river to Trafalgar Square, home of the National Gallery. What’s cool about the National Gallery is it’s span: Giotto to van Gogh, which is pre-Renaissance to (as far as art goes) fairly modern. Any art nerd will appreciate the stud earrings I bought in the gift shop.

Our walk wasn’t over yet, and we walked all the way to Westminster Abbey and Parliament. We hung out in the park which has a view of the London Eye and the Thames. THEN we walked to Buckingham Palace, by which time our feet were dead. Even my favourite European popsicle didn’t help (much..).

We then collapsed on a bench and decided to take the underground home and promptly passed out. In the morning, we had a big English breakfast in the hostel bar, where Lisa bravely tried blood pudding. I was tired.
Which brings us to right now, under the English Channel! A man is currently trying to explain air pressure to his darling little girls who have the cutest accents, saying that it’s all about “how squashed together the air is”. Adorable. I’ll try not to make the next blog quite so long! Cheerio for now!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Holy Toledo!

So this is it... The alarm is set, the plane takes off in 10 hours. Ill add some pictures to this later to make my blog nice and complete, but for now...

Since my last entry, we did a day trip to Toledo. It's a cute place and very Spanish looking. We just walked around and took it in, sitting in a lot of parks and on church steps because it was soo hot.

The train station in Madrid, Atocha, is cool in itself. It has a little jungle inside with ponds full of turtles. So adorable. There is also apparently a memorial to those killed in that 2004 bombing - it was at that train station - but I didn't see it.

The next day - my last day in Europe - I walked to the Thyssen Museum. It was really cool because it went through art from really old Icons to modern pop-art, chronologically. It also had a special exhibition on, which had all this Xray and UV analysis on this one painter's works, which was nifty in a nerdy way.

And just like that, the trip is over. I'm really excited to go home in some ways, but I'm sure I'll miss Europe as well.

Thanks to everyone for reading, thanks to my friends for staying friends the whole trip, and to family and friends who went out of their way to meet up with me in Europe.

See you all soon!
Sent on the TELUS Mobility network with BlackBerry

Monday, June 28, 2010


So Madrid hasn't been very busy days, but we have done the odd thing.

The first Museum was the Museo del Prado, which is one of Spain's national museums and boasts some of the most famous paintings in the world, like Velasquez's Las Meninas, which has never been a favourite of mine but seems to be somewhat of a symbol of Madrid. Anyway, I did get to see some of my favourite paintings, like Goya's 3rd of May, and my all-time favourite, Durer's self portrait... or as the Spaniards call him, Alberto Durero. Illegal photo, by the way, props to Paige for her stealth.

We also did another museum, the Reina Sofia, which was all modern type art,and aside from Picasso's Guernica, was not very interesting.

Aside from that, we've had some tasty Tapas, gone to a huge flea market and gone to a pretty crazy club. Like 7 floors, and somehow they blasted the entire dancefloor periodically with dry ice? It was INCREDIBLE haha, I loved it.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

So Spainful :(

So as stoked as I am on seeing some of the stuff in Madrid, this weather is not for me. It's making me soo sick just existing here.

Anyway, we had a pretty ridiculous flight here from London. easyJet did not live up to its name and we ended up getting a bit screwed over, baggage-wise. In the terminal, a woman was dragged away kicking and screaming (the screaming was Homer Simpson style, and continuous). Once we finally got on the plane, we were informed thatn due to a strike of air traffic controllers IN FRANCE, our flight would be a little delayed. So, we sat in the plane, on the runway for 2.5 hours. That wouldn't even have been so bad if they didn't act like we were about to take off, and telling us to keep our seats in the upright position etc.

Apparently I am being dragged away from the air conditioning and into the dreadful heat so writing about stuff I've actually DONE in Madrid will have to wait. Ta!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Last of Paris and... not Spain?!

So my last couple of days in Paris were the Museum days. I tackled the Musee D'orsay solo, but absolutely loved it. It was a lot of works I studied last year (Courbet, Renoir, Manet, Degas etc...) as well as some others that blew my mind, especially the Van Gogh self-portrait that they have. After that, I had a coffee with a friend from rez which was an unexpected meet-up and very nice. :)

The next day: the Louvre. We spent a good chunk of time there, and saw just about everything. Highlights for me were the Raft of the Medusa and Liberty Leading the People... Both by artists I'd just visited the graves of, and a Durer self-portrait. Lowlights, as usual, the Mona Lisa. I think this picture sums it up..

Oh, also this looks totally like Annie.

Unfortunately, we stopped to get our Spain train tickets on our way to the Moulin Rouge and discovered we are SOL. So instead of writing to you from San Sebastian or en route to Barcelona, I write from my second night in London, where in 5 hours we will be flying straight to Madrid.

London has been fun: I went with La and Paige to the Queen musical, We Will Rock You. It was great! Aside from that, we've just been shopping... good old Oxford Street.