A Travellerspoint blog

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Flying to Amsterdam

Apr 9, 2017

sunny

So we made pretty good time making our connection. As an aside, there was a man ahead of us in Halifax at security - who I remember because he had a big box of some medication that they were opening - he was on the same flight to AMS! We changed terminals and grabbed a quick snack to hold us out.

Our flight was around 1:30 or so. It was quite full and we were made to check our bags at the gate, because they said there would not be room. So there we are trying to figure out what to take out (iPad...check. All our information papers...check. Bag with our Euros in it...oops!). So we get to the plane, leave our bags to be gate checked - there was plenty of room in the overheads, so not impressed. The flight left late, but it's a relatively quick flight. Flying over NL we saw some flower fields and lots of wind turbines. One of the annoying things about having to check our bags was I had to carry my personal size item instead of being able to put it on top of my wheelie. That darn thing was heavy! I had my camera stuff and other heavy items in there. Grrrr.

Pretty smooth thru the airport. We found our way to the train to the South Station, which didn't take long. Our airbnb host recommended we take a taxi, as it took about 5 min and the cost was about 10 euro. After all our flights and travel, we thought that would be the best thing. We missed the taxi stand the first time and walked up to where the buses and trams were - and had we known, the tram to nearby the airbnb wasn't hard to figure out. But we made our way back to the taxi stand. Well, compared to taxis at home, these were lovely expensive cars (ours was a BMW or Mercedes, I think), and the taxi drivers wore suit jackets and ties! Very classy. It was very fast right to the door of our airbnb, and 11 euro.

It was a beautiful warm day (about 20 C - sadly, that was our last taste or late spring for a few weeks). We made our way up (and up and up!) to our room, and got settled in and relaxed for a bit. It was one flight up from the street, then two very twisty narrow winding staircases to the room). Unpacked a little.

We wandered a bit, then settled on a place called Pasta Pasta for supper. Oh - we were in the De Pijp area - tons of restaurants and bakeries. Grocery store nearby. Only a few minutes on tram to the Rijksmuseum area. Pasta x 2 was lovely. You pick your sauce, pick the pasta, then pick any add ins. I had bacon carbonara and spaghetti. (Fettucine is too thick for me). Hubby had pomodoro penne with chicken. Delish! Even the bread on the side was nice and fresh. And no language barrier at all!

After, we walked along the main street to the city center. Mostly just to orient ourselves. So many people! We were getting pretty tired, so we walked back to the Rijksmuseum area, then back to the room. We were pretty tired and sore. We relaxed with some tea and watched some TV.

We didn't have any firm plans for our days there, other than knowing a few things we wanted to see and some day trips we wanted to make. We'd decide the next morning.

Posted by u2traveller 11:34 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

Amsterdam Haarlem

Apr 10, 2017

sunny

Not the best sleep. Not sure what this trip is doing to me - maybe it's lack of pillows and neck support, but apparently I am being quite snore-y. And I saw a meme that said 'What the fuc! do birds find so interesting at 5am?'. Fit perfectly - poor sleep, and a chortling bird right outside the window at 5:30. Ugh. So not off to a good start for the day.

No firm plans for today, so we decided to poke around then head for Haarlem. We had some croissants and juice for breakfast at a bakery around the corner (I went back later and picked up some kind of cherry cake for my evening snack with my cuppa). We made our way to the Albert Cuyp Market. Had a stroopwafel. Picked up some cheese to snack on. That was about it. There were gorgeous bouquets of tulips and other flowers at rock bottom prices (compared to home). But mostly...cheaply made souvenirs and extensions of the shops on the street, selling clothes, fabric, some antiques, drug store stuff like lotions and razors. I guess I was picturing more people selling locally made crafts, so I left a bit underwhelmed.

We picked up a one day tram pass - after about 3 rides I think it paid for itself. We knew we'd be making at least 4 trips that day. The nice thing as well as it is good for 24 hrs from first use, so we knew we'd have time to use it in the morning as well to get back to the train station. And we finally picked up a city map, which was a great help to show the tram lines.

Took the tram to Centraal Station and got the train to Haarlem. Not too long a ride, about 30 min or so. I think we had to switch trains at a stop and almost didn't realize it! It was either this day or the next day when we went to Den Haag. Passed some lovely flower fields in bloom, which got me excited for Keukenhof. We walked from the town to the main square. We stopped along the way for some fries. They really like putting mayo on fries. The kind fellow behind the counter let us try some - including one that tasted like peanut butter! - so we could find one we liked. Settled on a garlicky mayo. While waiting for the fries, a man started talking to us - turns out he was from Vancouver! Of course he heard our 'not European' accents. He was there because of a death in the family, unfortunately. But it's always nice to chat with a fellow Canuck.

The town seemed fairly quiet for a Monday. We wanted to visit St Bavo's Church, so made our way there. We went in and looked around half the church and were looking at a memorial for some guys who figured out how to drain the water from the land, I think. A man in a red sweater approached us and started telling us about the men who the memorial was for. Oh, the accent took me back to the father of a friend who was from Holland - reminded me so much of him. He was one of the custodians/volunteers at the church. I am so glad he approached us! He then spent the next 45m-1h telling us about various parts of the church. He took us into a roped off area to show us up close the pulpit and baptismal font and told us about the imagery of the birds, animals and flowers. Spoke to us about the pipe organ. Told us about the beautiful stained glass, the 'pillar biter' and why the dogs by the choir had their heads turned away from the choir. So very interesting! It was a really great visit.

After leaving the church, we walked about the town but didn't go into any shops. The weather was cooler and breezy. There was a windmill in the town, so we made our way over to that. We didn't go right up to it, but looked from afar. We also marveled at the 'lack of safety barriers' that are so prevalent in North America. There was parking along the canal with no barrier between you and the water. I'd hate to come home half drunk and fall out of my car into the canal! No sure how people with limited mobility make out. Very interesting, to say the least. At home, someone would fall in and sue. I guess they place much more weight on personal responsibility over there.

We made our way back to Amsterdam and grabbed some pizza at a place called Ristorante Italano Maria. We stopped into de Bijenkorf department store as I had heard it had a nice eating area...well, it did, but nothing that grabbed our fancy. We also passed a really nice passageway that had some lovely stained glass wall lights, lovely tiled roof and a really cool fish water bottle filler/fountain. It looks like we were lucky as trying to find info about it, it seems like it just opened in March. Here is a link to it... http://inhabitat.com/dazzling-art-filled-passageway-immerses-visitors-in-everything-that-makes-amsterdam-special/ Anyways, the restaurant wasn't anything to write home about. The pizza was only OK, the waitress not super friendly and waiting for the bill was soooo long. But don't miss the passageway!!

We decided to head back to the room around 7pm. I was still feeling not super great, and we were both cold and tired. We stopped into the nearby grocery store and got some crackers for our cheese, juice, milk for the tea and a few sweet treats. Back to the room to have some tea and the pastry I had bought earlier, and watched a movie on the telly.

Posted by u2traveller 11:35 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

Amsterdam - Den Haag/Madurodam

Apr 11, 2017

Decided that we would visit Den Haag (DH from here on out) today, and visit Madurodam. First, I went out and got some croissants to bring back to the room.

We thought we'd walk down to the first canal and see if we could get a canal ride first thing, but they were all booked up until about 11:30. Knowing we were heading to The Hague, we decided to try the next day. Waited for the tram to take us to Centraal Station and caught the train. We passed some lovely tulip fields on the way there! And this was the day we were supposed to switch trains and almost didn't know...

Once we arrived at DH train station, it didn't take us too long to figure out the tram and get some tickets. The tram takes you - in only a few stops - right to the doorstep of Madurodam. I decided to go here after a recommendation from a fellow poster in a travel forum I frequent. It was a beautiful sunny day, but enough breeze to keep you from overheating. So, Madurodam is basically all these beautifully detailed miniatures of places around the NL. Churches, shopping areas, they even had a mini Red Light District! There were trains and cars on highways running all around...a spot where you could make a mini race car do burn outs, watch planes taxiing at Schipol. Windmills turning, a mini amusement park with a roller coaster. You could look thru the windows and skylights inside the buildings. There was a wedding going on a one church. A procession of religious figures coming out of another. There were doing maintenance on the water works part, but it looks like there would normally be boats and freighters moving. One area, you put a euro coin into a box and the 'factory' would make you a pin with tulips that said Madurodam. Another, the 'factory' produced mini ceramic clogs that popped out and came to you via a truck...a Mars factory that sent out a mini Mars bar. This was actually one of the most fun days on the trip...I think kids would have a blast here as it is interactive as well. I highly recommend this for young and old. We spent two hours visiting.

After, we caught the tram back to the train station and had Burger King for a fast lunch (bad idea, I think...I'll go into that later). Hubby had seen a pamphlet for an MC Escher exhibit and we decided to try and find that. We thought we plotted out the correct route, but the trams had been changed around a bit, and we ended up going sort of perpendicular to where we wanted to be. The tram didn't stop where we thought it would. So we hopped off, got out the map app and found out way there - it was about a 15 min walk. I'm not a big MCE fan, but my husband is, and even I found the displays interesting - from his earliest photographs to his brain-bending later works. Very interesting all told. The Het Palace (Summer Palace) was the setting for the exhibition...I'm not sure if it's permanent or not.

We walked back to the train station and returned to Amsterdam. It was starting to get chilly again, and we wandered around a bit, getting hungry and trying to decide what to eat. We ended up at a place called Burger Bar - which is similar to some places we've eaten at before (Hero Burger in Toronto comes to mind). You pick your bun, type of meat, topping, sauces. It was actually a really good burger, but after having a later in the afternoon lunch at BK, I had a very hard time getting thru my burger and only ate about 2/3rds. I was also starting to not feel very well.

After finishing, we found a tram back to our neighbourhood and went in for the night and had some nice hot drinks.

Then, the chills began. Laying in bed alternately sweating and shivering. About 1am or so, I started feeling like I was going to throw up...and...I did (in the bathroom, not the bed). I'm not one for getting ill, so this was a bit surprising. I'm wondering if it was the BK lunch. But, like anything after you vomit, you feel better, and I did. Tho I had a bad sleep, I was feeling much more chipper the next morning...except, my throat had the beginnings of soreness...ugh...more on that later.

Posted by u2traveller 07:43 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

Amsterdam Canal Cruise/Rijksmuseum

Apr 12, 2017

So after my poor sleep (and waking up at 5am and not being able to get back to sleep) we decided to take it a bit easier today. Plus, rain was in the forecast, so we decided to stay closer to our room just in case.

After grabbing breakfast (more croissants) and bringing it back to the room, we decided to try our hand at a canal cruise again. Back to the Blue Boats cruises and yup - they had a spots available ASAP...here is where the fun began. So we get in what we think is the correct line, but that turns out to be an organized group tour with old folks from a bus. So we get into another line - and when we get on the boat, there wasn't anywhere for the two of us to sit together, so one of the workers told us to go back in and get another cruise. Sigh. The one inside was like...that boat wasn't full...well, there wasn't anywhere for the two of us to sit together. Luck with the next cruise. This only took about 15 min or so to get on a cruise. Off we go down past the Rijksmuseum - they do diff tours, and I'm not sure which one we end up on. But...they were doing work on one of the bridges so the boat had to turn around. We ended up on the Amstel and at one point it stops at a Diamond Tour/Exchange - well, if there were 100 people on the boat, 90 of them get off! So back to the dock almost empty. When we were getting on, they took our photo and we weren't going to bother. It was only a few euro and I first said no, then I'm like...show me the pic again...it actually looked pretty good since we were a bit perturbed by the whole on and off and on again kerfuffle at the start...so I decided to get the pic since we never have many pictures together (not selfie takers). We also did the combo tickets with the Rijksmuseum to save a few euro.

After the cruise we decided to head back to the room for an hour. Before, we stopped at a place we had been eyeballing before for lunch - they served a bunch of different types of pizza. It was called Sumo Pizza. I had a four cheese and hubby had meat. After our break, we headed back out to the Cuyp Markt - and met a guy from the States there selling brownies. He's like - you guys don't sound European and we ended up chatting with him for 5 min. Nice guy, and the brownies were really good. We then went to Sariphatenpark for a wander.

Next, we decided to the Rijksmuseum. The tickets we had bought with our canal cruise allowed us to bypass the line, but since it was 2:30 in the afternoon, there wasn't much of a line. We stayed until close and saw much of the museum. We skipped some parts that were of no interest. I think if you wanted to explore at a leisurely pace, probably 4 hrs or so would do it. And I finally discovered a way for me to enjoy art - look at the fine details and brushwork in the paintings. I'm not one to get all moony over art, but I love details! And to see some of the works of the Masters was amazing. We did make sure we took some time to see The Night Watch as well, of course - the centerpiece of the museum.

Upon leaving, we hopped a tram and got off near the Amstel River and wandered along until we decided it was time for supper. We ended up - of all places - at Rembrandtplein - with...the '3D' version of The Night Watch - which seemed very fitting. We ate Italian at a place called La Madonnina. It wasn't bad. I had a manicotti type meal which was just the right size. I can't remember what hubby had. We had some garlic bread to start. While we were there, it started raining - quite hard! We were like...uh oh, we are going to get wet on the way back. But we stayed just long enough eating that the rain mostly stopped. We decided since it wasn't really nice to head back to the room and just relax for the rest of the night and do some planning for the next days trip to Keukenhof. We talked about going back out, but both were too tired. And we didn't go out at night any of our evenings there, and after seeing other photos of the canals at night, I'm kicking myself.

Posted by u2traveller 09:53 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

Amsterdam/Keukenhof

Apr 13, 2017

Today was our day to visit Keukenhof. I knew that getting there first thing was out of the question. I decided to get up and go out at 7am over to the Museumplein (MP) to see if I could get some photos of the IAmsterdam sign with no one around. Good plan.

I went to the main street and hopped on the tram, which was 3 stops away from MP. A quick walk across a field and BINGO! - there were maybe 3 other people there that early - someone like me out to get some snaps, and a few tourists (who I ended up taking photos for them when they couldn't selfie the whole thing). It was lovely. Sun was coming up, beautiful light reflecting off the fountain/pool with the insets of tulips. If you want to get photos with no other people at IAmsterdam, this is the time to do it!

I hopped back on the tram heading further out and watched out the window - a few stops later I jumped out and got some photos of one of the canals, walking down the block and back. Bicycles were starting to appear by this time. Walked back up, hopped on the tram back a stop (I had my pass, so I figured I'd get my money's worth) then hopped out and walked into Vondelpark. By now, it was 'rush hour' as everyone was on their way to work. I walked a ways into the park to a big statue of the park's namesake - surrounded by tulips, of course - then decided to head back for the tram. So many bicycles, it took me over a minute to get an opening to run across the road in the park! Whew. Hopped back on the tram and was back in the room by 8:30. Early mornings are a wonderful time to explore cities before they get really busy.

We grabbed some breakfast on the go (pastries and OJ) and made our way by tram to the South Station then took the train to Schipol (logistics worked better that way from where we were), where we found the kiosk to purchase bus/entry combo tickets for Keukenhof. So we wander over to the line up for the bus...oh, doesn't look that bad...until you realized it wound back on itself a few times...ugh. Overall it wasn't horrible, but still a 45 min wait. There were some enterprising shuttle van drivers trying to get people to pony up for a ride - 10 euro per person - and saying the wait was probably an hour or more for the bus. Well, we already paid for our transportation in our ticket, so...pass. But others were taking them up on it. The buses were pretty frequent - every 10 min or so one would leave. The bad thing was...by the time we got on a bus, all the seats were taken and we had to stand - and it was pretty crammed, so even hard to hold onto something. And the bus driver was maniacal about the heat - he had the heat cranked up so high on the bus, more than a few of us were standing there swaying trying to take off layers of coats and sweaters. That sucked.

When we got to Keukenhof, we noticed the flow of people going in was quite large. There was a food truck selling fries in the parking lot so we got some lunch while we figured out what to do. I had seen someone mention on a travel forum I frequent that you could rent bikes to bike around the tulip fields, which I really wanted to do. Spotted the bike rental and we decided to do that first, then go into the gardens upon return. The rental place is called Rent a Bike Van Dam. Prices very reasonable. So off we went. Wow - we saw some amazing fields of tulips - red, pink, white, yellow, coral. Fields of daffodils and purple, pink and white hyacinths. We did the 'medium' length ride. They give you a map to follow. We missed a turn at one point and ended up back at one of the spots we'd already been near the beginning of the ride. Luckily, we only missed it by 5 min, so back we went - thank goodness - as there was a field there that seemed to be open to the public. People were parking their bikes and walking in. We didn't walk in, but stayed on the edge. Other fields were either gated off or had no trespassing signs. It was so beautiful. Back on the bikes and somehow we missed another turn (the signs weren't very big) and ended up biking thru a town...we thought we were lost so stopped at a gas station and they told us we were going the right direction - but I do think we missed some lovely fields. Overall we were gone about three hours, arriving back around 4pm. And I'm not much of a bicyclist (I flew over the handlebars biking in Switzerland, and was being passed by 60 year old joggers in Central Park) but the biking was very easy. It was windy in places and would blow you around a little, but otherwise, nice and flat. I wasn't even sore the next morning!

It was a cracking idea to wait and go into the gardens later. When we got back, the parking lot had cleared out a lot. I overheard a man the day before talking about going and they got there early, and he said even so the pavilions were so crowded you could barely move. Well, I'd recommend going in later in the afternoon. Pavilions were not at all crowded. There was a rose pavilion with some of the most beautiful and unusual roses I've ever seen. I was in photo taking heaven. Back out to wander thru some gardens to the tulip pavilion - well, another gorgeous one - so many colours, shapes, sizes. Walked to the windmill overlooking some hyacinth and tulip fields, then into an orchid pavilion. And along the beautiful rows of flowers...there was a huge design of tulips on a slope made out of tulips. By this time, I was actually getting 'tuliped' out. But it was so amazing and am so glad we were able to experience it. We went thru the gift shops, but nothing struck our fancy. We went out to wait for the buses, but weren't getting fooled this time. They were putting people on a bus and trying to cram it full. We saw there was no chance of sitting and decided to wait for the next one...I wasn't standing again. They were telling people the next bus would be 30 min when you could see there were two more standing at the ready. So as soon as the one bus left, we went and got near the head of the line. The next bus pulled up a few min later and we were able to get a seat.

Got back to the city around 8pm...and decided to go back to the restaurant we'd already eaten at - Pasta Pasta. This time, I went light and got a nice chicken salad and hubby got gnocchi. This was our last night in Ams, so we decided to head back to the room to sort out our suitcases for our move the next day to Dordrecht.

I'm really glad we decided to stay the 5 nights in Ams - a lot of people say 3 is usually good. If you didn't want to daytrip, 3 nights probably would be, but the towns are so close and fast to get to, that you may neglect Ams. I actually feel we did a bit. Thinking back, I wish we had gone out in the evening for a stroll along the canals - but being tired and the cooler weather didn't help when we just wanted to warm up and relax. I would still love to return to Ams for 3-4 nights in the future and really delve into the city instead of seeing a few canals and daytripping the rest of the time.

Posted by u2traveller 11:36 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

Rotterdam Zoo/Dordrecht

Apr 14, 2017

Well, today was the day we were packing up and heading to Dordrecht. We decided to stop in Rotterdam on the way.

We didn't have a whole lot planned to see in Rotterdam. We got off at the train station, grabbed some Starbucks, stored the luggage at some luggage lockers and consulted the map app. I was not feeling my best (my throat was very sore) and to top it off, it was Good Friday, which limited options. I saw a great mug at Starbucks (orange, said Netherlands and had tulips and windmills on it) and was like...I need to get one of these on the way back! Of course, I forgot. BUT - luckily, I got one at a Starbucks at a diff train station! Score.

We saw that the zoo wasn't too far off and decided to walk there. Maybe 10-15 min walk. It was a bit pricey to go in. There were some interesting exhibits - lions, tigers (who I felt very bad for as I watched it pacing back and forth in front of the window)...giraffes - which was neat because you could go inside and be at the 'head level' of the giraffes. There was a baby hyena...actually, lots of little ones, including a baby rhino. You could get up close and personal with the prairie dogs. Polar bears and also one of the underwater tunnels where you go thru as the fish swim overhead. Sadly, I am starting to not want to visit zoos anymore - just watching that tiger and the repetitive pacing back and forth - you know it was having issues. I get both sides - I love seeing the animals, but wish they could give them better and bigger pens. OK, off my soap box.

All in all, we spent about 3 hrs at the zoo, then decided to move along. I wish we had more time to see more of Rotterdam as I hear it has some nice modern architecture, including the Cube Houses...but it was cool out, and I wasn't feeling well.

So we got to Dordrecht and walked to our airbnb - was about a 10 min walk from the train station. In the old part of the town, above a restaurant. We relaxed for a bit, then decided to walk around some...maybe go to a grocery store and get some snacks...except - it was Good Friday, and the grocery store nearby had closed a few hrs earlier. OK, maybe a restaurant, but many either seemed closed or didn't interest us for some reason. Finally, we looked at the map app and said...ok, McDonalds is close - and so we went to McD's. My throat was feeling worse and worse - to the point where it was very painful to swallow. I've never had anything like this happen before. I had a really hard time eating my supper, but was so hungry I forced down what I could. I was starting to wonder if I was going to have to find a doctor or go to a pharmacy and see if I could get something. But, the town being pretty much closed down, we went back to the room to plan the next days activities and have something warm to drink. Hubby ended up chatting with our airbnb host for a few hours, while I relaxed in the room.

Posted by u2traveller 07:22 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

Dordrecht/Kinderdijk

Apr 15, 2017

So today we decided to visit Kinderdijk to see the windmills...but first...breakfast!

Our host recommended a place called Coffeelixcious for breakfast...so we headed down - except we were too early...had 20 min to kill before they opened so we just wandered down the street and back. Finally went back and they were open, so we went in and got a seat. Not a lot on the menu, so we decided to try scones with clotted cream and jam. I was a little dubious, never having had clotted cream before, but oh my! Very delicious! And of course, there were two big scones and we could only eat one each. Had we known there were two, we would have just split an order. But, I spread the extra cream and jam over the scones and took them back to the room for the next morning. I wish we had gotten back to town before they closed as they had some delicious looking cakes and squares there - I would have loved to try some.

Also, my throat was feeling much better by now, which was wonderful. The night before when I talked, it sounded like my mouth was half frozen. My throat was quite dry, but the pain was gone. We also went into the grocery store while it was opened and picked up some milk, juice and some snacks (ahem...Cadbury eggs). We also chatted with a local whilst waiting in line. She asked if we were from Ireland, as she'd seen a car outside from Ireland...she also wondered why we were staying in Dordrecht...lol. I think it's more popular as a day trip rather than overnight, and especially since it was April. But she was lovely to talk too. She told us that the windmill in town was open Sat mornings, but we didn't have time to go see it. We also took 15 min or so to walk around the local outdoor market, but didn't see anything for us - the usuals - cheese, meat, veggies, souvenirs...but nothing really unless you had somewhere to stay and could cook your own meals.

Then things went downhill from there (but then back uphill). So, we found the waterbus to Kinderdijk...except, it was running on an off season schedule, so it didn't go all the way to Kinderdijk (that didn't start until May 1). And infrequent - I think we waited about 35 min, and we were a bit unsure of where to wait, but asked a worker who was there. The lady on the waterbus told us where to find the bus, but apparently we didn't pay very good attention. When we got off, we walked a few minutes up the street but didn't see a bus stop. Asked some people standing there, but they didn't know. So...we went back the other way...and wandered, and wandered...thru a residential area, past some closed shops. Saw a bus stop but couldn't make sense of the schedule. Found another stop...nope. We wandered for a good 45 min and finally found a stop that said KD on it...except, it looked like the bus was supposed to come around on the half hour and it was already :37, and the next one wasn't due for an hour. I was honestly ready to give up and leave. But we had followed the bus line and hadn't noticed a bus with that number go by, so we stuck it out. We stood there for 5 min and lo and behold - a bus! It was quite full - it was going to KD - and we ended up standing...but we were on a bus! Hallelujah.

It wasn't too far, maybe 10 min by bus. We arrived and bought a ticket that included a ride on the boat that goes along the canal. We were going to get on that first, but of course about 5 people ahead of us the boat was full. Sigh. OK, let's go across the way and watch the movie...except it had started a few minutes before - but they waved us in. Watched that then went back over to wait for the boat. And let me mention how darn cold and windy it was. I would have loved a pair of gloves. I was lucky in that I had worn my fleece, as well as a t-shirt and my jacket. My hubby only had a short sleeve shirt and his light jacket. I was shivering in my layers and he was even colder.

So we made sure to be at the head of the line for the next boat and went down the canal and got off at the first or second stop. The combo ticket we got allowed entry into the windmills. Of course, not very big inside, but interesting. And the blades were really 'wooshing' as it was so windy. As we were crossing one bridge, a man stopped us and started chatting. Then he asked if we were interested in buying his artwork. Well, we had talked about finding something 'handmade' and they were only 5 euro. They were handcoloured prints on art paper, 5x7 inch. He shuffled thru them and we spotted one with a windmill and a boat. It wasn't really my 'style', but it now has a proud spot on a table in my upstairs hall. We walked along and picked up a chocolate bar to munch on as hunger was kicking in. I got some lovely photos (I imagine sunrise/sunset would be amazing). At one point, there was a duck loudly honking in the water - then we saw why - mama duck came along with about 7 babies, crossed the sidewalk and off they went into the water. So sweet.

After a few hours, we decided it was time to go. On the boat back to the main area, I sat outside to get some photos and had a lovely chat with a couple from the UK - if memory serves, they actually lived in or quite close to Portsmouth, where my sister lives, so we had a wonderful chat. Went back and looked around the gift shop (I picked up a Christmas tree ornament) then over to the bus stop. The bus wasn't coming for about 25 min, but we decided not to move as there was starting to be a line up. By the time the bus arrived, there were about 30-40 people (maybe even more). The poor lady left about 15 min behind schedule as she was busy giving out tickets (and I'm going to guess that's why the bus was 10 min off it's schedule when we got picked up). She told us which stop to get off for the waterbus, and luckily we got a seat. So we come to the stop, get off and start walking down the sidewalk - and realize that earlier in the day, had we kept walking straight instead of turning around and going the other way - that we had only been a few minutes away from the bus stop. An hour wasted...grrrrr.

We had another 30 min wait for the waterbus back to Dordrecht. Arrived back a little before 7pm. And we were starving. I'd only eaten a granola bar and half a Twix bar. We passed by an Italian place and stuck our heads in, but they wouldn't have a table for another hour. Didn't want McD's again. Passed a few others and decided to go into one called De Beren almost across the road from our room. OMG - it was heaven. The baguette with herbed butter they brought out first was manna from heaven (and it helped that we were starving...lol). We both had the chicken breast and I had a huge baked potato and hubby had fries. It was so so good.

Popped back over to the room to relax for a few minutes, then headed over to see the windmill that we had heard about. It was about a 15 min walk. It was just starting to get dark when we arrived, but I got some nice shots. After our cold and long day, we went back to the room. I made some tea and enjoyed one of the leftover scones. I went back to the room to relax while hubby sat chatting with our host.

Posted by u2traveller 11:18 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

Dordrecht/Gouda

Apr 16, 2017

Well, another day that didn't go exactly as planned. We decided to visit Gouda - on Easter Sunday...not the best idea, for a few reasons.

Reason one - being a long holiday weekend, track work was going on, so we show up at the train station and realize that about 95% of the trains aren't running. Sigh. We had to take a bus to Rotterdam and catch the train there. So we waited 20-25 min for the bus, then it was about 45 min to get to Rotterdam, then had to take the train. Reason two - it was Easter Sunday, so 99% of the stores were closed. There was a cheese/gift shop open, the (what I will call the) cheese house/tourist info was open, and the town hall. Hindsight being what it was, we should have gone to Gouda on Sat (when the trains were running) and Kinderdijk on Sun, when all the shops being closed didn't matter since there were no shops we went to in the town near KD.

At the cheese house, we picked up a booklet with a walking tour (a bit tongue in cheek) of Gouda. And we commenced to follow it. We started at the town hall, which was open to the public, and for a few euro, you could go in and look around, so we did that. There was also, on the :15, a clockwork (what do you call it!) thing on the side of the building where 'animatronic' people would come out. Why can't I think of what that is called?! We had hoped to pop into a church, but...again...Easter Sunday. We followed the walking tour (did the shorter version, which was about 90 min)...and saw all kinds of interesting sights...the brass plaques set into the sidewalks commemorating people who died at concentration camps; the (at the time) most expensive home in town (owned by a merchant), narrow alleys, neat bridges, narrow houses that were about 7 feet wide (and imagining us trying to get ALL our stuff in there). Other points of interest included the Lazarus Gate, the Fish Market, Willem Vroesen house and the Orphanage. The book was (I think) 4 euro and worth every cent, called A Walk Through History. We picked up some cheese (not Gouda, as we thought, but I think it's Grana Padano) and popped into the gift shop and got a nice cutting board w/cheese knives.

Knowing that we'd have to reverse going back (catching a bus from Rotterdam to Dordrecht) we decided to head off...and there wasn't anything else to do, either. On the plus side, when we got to the Rotterdam train station, I remembered to buy the Netherlands mug at the Starbucks that I forget to buy a few days before! Win! Another 30 min wait for the bus, and there seemed to be some confusion about which bus was going where and it was a good 25 min before it got on the road. And the time to get back to Dor...so what should normally have been a 45 min or so train ride turned into a 2 hour journey.

We were a bit tired (and disgruntled...and hungry) when we got back to Dor. We decided to eat at de Beren again...wasn't quite as good as the night before - we both had burgers...service not as attentive, no herbed butter and baguette this time, busier...but we did get a cupcake to go when we left and went back to the room to enjoy. The next day we were heading for Ghent in Belgium, so we took the time to sort out the luggage (OK, I took the time while hubby chatted with our host).

Posted by u2traveller 18:21 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

Antwerp/Ghent

Apr 17, 2017

So today we were moving on to Belgium. Apparently Easter Monday is ALSO a good day to work on train tracks, because again we had to wait for a bus, catch a train to a town I can't remember the name of, then a train to Antwerp, which we had decided to stop in and have a look around for the afternoon. It is usually less than an hour to get to Ghent from Dor...this took over two hours. We walked around Dordrecht for a bit just to check out a few spots we missed.

OK, so...first off...the train station in Antwerp is HUGE! And gorgeous. There were (if memory serves) four levels of trains...absolutely incredible. We found the luggage lockers and grabbed a quick bite to eat at one of the restaurants in the train station - just a Panini type sandwich. Off we go down the main road to what we hoped was the center of town. Such lovely buildings. I was very charmed by Antwerp. We went into St Jacobskerk for a quick look around. We wandered a bit then went into the Cathedral of Our Lady - amazing. Some gorgeous artwork (including some by Peter Paul Reubens - I'm not much of an art buff, but even I've heard of Reubens! Also, one really freaky piece of artwork that was like something out of a nightmare. Look up Fall of the Rebel Angels by Frans Floris...**shudders** Also beautiful wood carvings in the choir and on the altarpiece.

We then walked around to the main open square and marveled at the buildings. The great thing about no expectations is you can't be disappointed! We went to the river front and saw what looked like a castle (Steen Castle) and walked down to that and wandered around it for ten minutes. We were getting pretty hungry and stopped at a place just near the main square called Bella Patio...Italian - I can't remember what we had - probably pizza...it was OK.

We got a little lost on the way back to the Antwerp train station - ended up a bit further 'off to the side' than I thought. When we got to Ghent, it was about 9pm or so. We were a little confused about which stop to go to/tram to take to get to our room and ended up just missing one - we didn't know if it was the right one. And the ticket giving machine wasn't working either! It was almost a half hour wait for the next tram at that time of night, so we had to cool our heels. Luckily, the tram stopped about a block away from our room, which was right on the river front and steps from everything...great location. So we didn't end up getting there until about 10pm. Had a warm drink and got the lowdown from our host and settled in for the night.

Posted by u2traveller 18:29 Archived in Belgium Comments (0)

Ghent/Bruges

Apr 18, 2017

Today we decided to visit Bruges, but we spent a bit of time this morning exploring a small section of Ghent.

As I mentioned before, our airbnb was right along the water. We went out and it was so still, the water was like glass. The reflections were amazing. We walked a few blocks to the centre and found Starbucks! So we had some croissants/pain au chocolat and hot drinks to start our morning, then went over to the Gravensteen castle. We spent about an hour at the castle - it was quite interesting. Lots of stairs, but some interesting displays - including...the torture chamber! Oh boy...even a guillotine! Thinking about how many heads that blade chopped off....*shudders*. And at the top, some great 360 views of the city. The price wasn't bad - I think 10 euro each. Also some nice displays with weapons - swords, old guns, armour.

We walked around the town and popped into a few chocolate shops - got some bars at Leonidas and bought a 10 ride ticket for the trams at the grocery store (so now we could 'legally' ride). That was actually a pretty good deal as we could have used them on the Lijn trams/buses in other cities in Belgium. But we still didn't quite figure out the machine on the tram and only ended up subtracting one ride off the card (as opposed to one for each of us). You put the card in the machine and it types a date/time on it...but it would also ask which of 10 sections/regions you were in - we of course had no clue which part of the city ours fell under, so we guessed! At least our tickets never got checked! And I think the first machine we tried didn't work...it was pretty messed up.

So we took the train to Bruges and walked from the station to the center, maybe 15-20 min. We walked around a bit and saw the Historium and thought...oh, that looks interesting. Oh lord, we should have saved out money. It said you walked thru rooms and explored Bruges past by watching a video/movie in each room. So I was picturing...walking thru the room...displays of items from the past. Uh...no. It was a ridiculous 'movie' about a painter's apprentice who is supposed to go get the hottie artist's model and a green parrot from the docks or something. He loses the parrot. Other things happen. I can't believe we spent like 15 euro each for this. The best part was the view over the square. Oh well, at least I got to use the bathroom for free. Sigh. And may I say the main historical square was quite charming. LOTS of restaurants!

There were a few dark clouds starting to roll over...and I really wanted a Belgian waffle, so we wandered over to the canal and went into a place called...what else...The Chocolate Crown. We picked up some fudge to take home and I got my waffle. They had lots of options, including fruit, whipped cream, chocolate and ice cream. I went with - Nutella of course! With some vanilla ice cream. And it was good, but...never thought I'd say this...the Nutella was too thick. Without a drink, it was very sweet and I ended up having to scrape some of the chocolate off and only ate 2/3rds. It also started raining, so we went and hid out under the old fish market and waited it out. It blew over pretty quick. And right there you could get tickets for a canal boat ride. Seemed as good a place as any. We were near the head of the line - the boats filled up pretty quick. Just when we got on, it started raining again, but was over pretty fast (and at least we didn't get winged by a duck like one poor lady who was getting on the boat...no damage done, but it was pretty funny). It was a nice way to see the city - maybe about 45 min or so...and it started to shower lightly when we got back, so we decided to head over to the shops.

I got some much needed lotion at The Body Shop and we also went into a shop selling woven tapestries - wall hangings, purses, wallets, pillow covers, etc. There were some really beautiful poppy designs, and some really funny animal designs - dogs dressed up like British aristocrats, African animals like giraffes with top hats and monocles. I would have seriously loved to get some of the wall hangings, but knew we didn't really have anywhere in the house to put them or two big cushions. I ended up getting a smaller oblong cushion cover with beautiful red poppies on it, and a little pillow cover with a kitten for my mom. The shop owner was telling us the history of tapestries in Bruges...and the tags on the pillows do say made in Belgium - so a nice local souvenir to bring home.

We were getting tuckered out so decided to head back to Ghent and have supper there. It was one of those times when we couldn't really seem to decide on what to have. Neither of us were feeling like burgers or chicken and even the thought of pasta wasn't doing it for me. And...we ended up at Pizza Hut. Good local food. ;) Hubby felt like pasta after all, and I went with the special with the salad bar (um...not that exciting a selection - but I'm not a big salad eater), personal size pizza and dessert.

After we went back to the room to relax, we headed out around 9pm to walk around the water at night. The water was still so calm...the reflections were beautiful. We walked about for an hour or so, then went back to the room for some tea/hot chocolate.

Posted by u2traveller 10:59 Archived in Belgium Comments (0)

Ghent/Ypres

Apr 19, 2017

Our last day before moving on to Paris. We hit Starbucks again and had our coffee/hot chocolate and some croissants and pain au chocolat, of course.

We decided to pop into the churches before heading for Ypres. St Nicholas was first, then St Bavos. Typical churches - some nice artwork, carvings, stained glass. We contemplated climbing the belfry, but my days of climbing many stairs are (mostly) over. Not really much else to comment on.

Off to the train station...annnnnnd...we missed the hourly train to Ypres by 5 min...sigh. So we wandered a few blocks, but there isn't a whole lot near the train station. Got some French fries with what apparently passed for gravy in Belgium - um, it had kind of a sweet taste...not like the gravy we are used to at home. Ate that while waiting for the train.

It's about an hour to Ypres and we got there just after lunch. We walked around a bit then headed for the In Flander's Fields Museum. This was one of our two main reasons for coming to Ypres - the other being Last Post. When you go into the museum, they give you a rubber bracelet (which was quite nice - white with red poppies - I kept them for souvenirs) which you 'load' with your basic info - sex, age, country...and there are spots in the museum where you tap your bracelet and it'll tell you a story about someone in your age range/sex etc to personalize your visit. It will also send you an email with your personal encounter although I did get one and now can't seem to open the info, so perhaps it is time sensitive. There are thought provoking displays and videos throughout. I actually didn't realize the Ypres was basically flattened during WW1 and that the remaining townspeople decided to rebuild in the old style of the town - I never would have guessed that many of the buildings were less than 100 years old. The videos were really good and some quite emotional. And I guess we didn't climb the belfry stairs in Ghent so we would have the energy to do the stairs here. There were three levels, so at least you could catch your breath, and some small displays on the first two levels. The views over the town and the hills were lovely from the top. Back down to finish up and we went into the gift shop, where I got a lovely handmade poppy pin (made from linen type fabric), a reusable bag and a poppy keychain.

There were some school groups running around, and we noticed some Canadian flags on some t-shirts and jackets. We later found out what that was about. We went into some shops (and got some more chocolate) and one asked if we were with the school group. When we said no they seemed surprised that we - Canadians - were there at that time of year on our own! We decided it was time for supper and were still having 'I don't want to eat that' syndrome. We didn't want to wander too far from Menin Gate and a lot of the eateries seemed kinda pricy. We finally went to a place call 't Appel. It was the type of place where you order at the counter and they bring it to your table. Hubby had the Bolognese and I had the 'chick puller' sandwich. Both very tasty and not crazy expensive.

The day was pretty cool like the others - glad I had my fleece on again. We decided to head down to the Menin Gate at around 7:25 for the 8pm Last Post, thinking we'd get a good spot...wellllll. It wasn't a bad spot but the 'prime' spots were full. Luckily we managed to squeeze onto the side right against a chain barrier. The people behind wouldn't have been able to see well. We got chatting with a fellow who was there with one of the school groups and found out he was from Nfld - he was familiar with NS tho, so we chatted for a bit. The school groups go and a couple students take part in the ceremony, placing wreaths. Before going to eat, we walked down to the Gate and looked around and saw the wreaths laid over in the Canada section. That evening, there was a group from New Zealand there who took part in the Last Post and sang a couple hymns/songs. It was quite moving. It lasted about 15 min. Afterwards, we walked around the gate again - and noticed a lot of buses lined up - they must get a lot of tour groups every night.

Well, then it was time to head back for the train. We had checked the schedule before and knew the trains left on the :20. So we knew we wouldn't make the 8:20. We meandered back and still arrived about 8:40. Of course, the train station itself was locked up. We weren't even sure which of the 3 tracks we were supposed to wait at (obviously we figured it out). It was getting dark and cooling off fast, and there really wasn't much to do. Luckily, there was a small take out place right beside the train stn, so we went in and got a soda and sat there until about 9:10. Caught the train, not getting back to Ghent until 10:20...and we just missed the tram (we didn't run fast enough) and had to wait 20 min for the next one...ugh. Didn't get back to the room until 11pm - time to sort the bags a bit, as tomorrow we were moving on to Brussels and Paris.

Oh, also wanted to mention that out absolutely fab airbnb host let us use his washing machine and dryer, so we had been able to clean up our clothes finally! That was nice after 8-9 days...starting to run out of clean shirts!

Posted by u2traveller 10:22 Archived in Belgium Comments (0)

Brussels/Paris

Apr 20, 2017

So today we were moving on to Paris, with a few hours in Brussels.

After breakfast, we hopped on the train to Brussels. And I apparently was confused as to which station the Thalys train to Paris left from. We went in to Centrale station, but then discovered Thalys left from the Midi station! Oh darn! But when we checked, it was only 5 min to the correct station, so we found somewhere to store our bags and off we went. And Centrale was more convenient to the Grand Place.

We popped into St Nicholas Cathedral first - another lovely church - by now they were all starting to look a little them same. Then we headed for Grand Place. What a lovely square! The day was also beautiful and warm. We walked around the square, checking out the artists selling their paintings and prints. We marveled at the gorgeous buildings. There was a pastry shop I wanted to find (I have also visited the same shop in NYC and Paris...called Aux Merveilleux de Fred). Before finding that, we popped into a couple chocolate shops - I had what had to have been the thickest, most chocolaty hot chocolate ever - it was super rich. Every shop we went into gave us some chocolate. We went into Leonidas and got more chocolate. Went into a store that had a lot of Speculoos items - its a spicy little cookie (like gingerbread) that we first had on our trip in 2012. I picked up a small jar of Speculoos spread. I got two Merveilleux pastries at Fred. And we picked up some fries for lunch. We wandered some of the side streets and gosh darn if there were 20 stores on the street, 15 of them we chocolate shops. Absolute Chocolate heaven!

Back to Grand Place and we picked up a couple of lovely prints (of Bruges) to hang on our walls when we got home. And - didn't have time - but passed something called Chocopolis. Why did we not have time for this??! Well, we thought it best to go back and collect our bags and make our way to the correct station. And we got slightly turned around and went about a block to far - finding the station entrance was tricky! All in all we had about 2 hrs in Brussels. Certainly could see going back and spending a day there and exploring (cough - visit chocolate shops - cough) more.

No issues getting to Paris - a few issues started when we arrived. First, we got a carnet of tickets from the ticket machine (for use on the metro)...no problem. Then, we wanted to go to Gare Montparnasse, drop our bags, then do some exploring before heading to our airbnb. Well, there was work going on with one of the metro lines, so we had to detour a bit...just changing at another station instead of going direct. Then, we got to Mont and trying to find the left luggage was like a maze. The sign said up, so we went up. The next sign said it was down a floor - what?! So we ended up going down to the bottom - no, it's up - lordy. I don't know what the heck we were doing. Finally get there, and of course, we had spent pretty much all our money in Belgium. And the machines only take change. Sigh. We pulled our bags back out and were going to find a bank machine, when we noticed a machine there that you could put your cc in and it would give you change. Thank God! This production took a good 20 min from the time we started trying to find the luggage to when we finally got our bags locked up. In the meantime, I was able to get in touch with our airbnb and give her a rough idea of when we'd arrive. We stayed with her the last time we were in Paris, so we knew exactly where to go.

So off we went into Paris - first thing - find a bank machine. If we use a BNP Paribas, our bank is affiliated with them, so we don't have to pay the extra fee for using an out of system machine. Luckily, it didn't take us too long to find one. That's done. Now, we were heading for Luxembourg Gardens. Three previous visits to Paris and we'd never been there! So we started at the 'narrow' end and made our way down to the pond/fountain. Had a sit down to decide what to do next. We were both a bit tired and wanted to head for the d'Orsay (open late on Thursdays!), but first, we went into Eglise St Sulpice. There was some restoration work going on inside - and compared to many of the other churches, it was quite dark inside. And it looks like we went in at just the right time...when we came out, they were closing the gates behind us. We didn't spend too much time inside.

Oh - quick mention that after feeling better when we left Amsterdam - now I was going into full fledged head cold - sneezing, runny nose - ugh. And Paris was so warm! It felt good after what felt like 2 months of cool breezy weather.

So, we walked up to the d'Orsay. Again - 3 times in Paris and have never been. So this was the trip we were going to do it. It was great that it was open late on Thurs. I'm not sure what the museum is usually like for crowds, but there was no line up to get in. As a funny aside, they asked at security check if I had a cell - nope. Asked hubby - nope (we really don't!). The guy looked dubious and was like...you don't have a cell phone? Hubby was like - (pointing at me) - she's the only one I talk too. He thought that was amusing.

I'm glad we finally got to visit - again, not a huge art fan, but to see works by artists I was familiar with - Rodin, Renoir, Monet - paintings I have seen before in calendars and on posters - there right in front of me. Amazing. Degas...Rembrandt...Cezanne...some beautiful sculptures...and...the big clock! I even managed to get a few photos without anyone in the shot. We spent a few hours (left about 8:30, judging by my photo of the ornate golden clock in the main area), but by now were running on fumes of French fries we'd eaten about 8 hours before. Time to get our bags and get to our room.

We arrived about 9pm and were famished. The stop for our airbnb was only a few stops from Mont. And her room is right across the road. We weren't quite sure what to do about food, but there were lots of restaurants in the area. We popped out and almost across the road was a pizza place (they also sold burgers and chicken - fast take out stuff). So we ordered a pizza to go. While we were waiting, I walked down to the next corner to a corner store and got some apple juice (for the morning) and some potato chips (for a snack). Pizza was ready in about 10 min and we took it back to the airbnb and chowed down - it was like manna from heaven!

After a loooong travel day, it was time to rest...we didn't have any grand plans for Paris, other than some places we've missed on previous trips...that is one of the nice things about revisiting cities - we've done all the 'must see' stuff, so now we can take out time, wander, relax, visit smaller things...and even after 4 visits, I STILL want to return to Paris!

Posted by u2traveller 16:00 Archived in France Comments (0)

Paris

Apr 21, 2017

So we didn't have any hard and fast plans today - which was both good...and bad. How can you be in a city as amazing as Pairs and just wander aimlessly? Well, it didn't help that I was still all stuffed up and it was really warm (and I ended up a little bit red!).

So I've been wanting to go to Bir Hakeim (or Hakiem or Hakim, or BH) to get some of those iconic shots I've seen on IG. (If you've seen Inception, BH figures prominently in one of the trippy scenes). But first...we stopped into a bakery along the way and grabbed some croissants. Then to BH...well, I think the pretty photos must be taken at sunrise/sunset/nighttime as I couldn't seem to find a particularly good angle. Oh well. For our haha of the day, as we were looking over to the Eiffel Tower, there was a family there trying to get a group photo. So the wife asked us to take a photo. No probs. Then she was like, do you want me to take your photo with your husband. I look at the tower and go...um, nah, thanks...lol. What did she think? Well, I really should have since we don't have many photos of us together, but...*shrugs.

So we went over to Champs Elysees (where the night before a man shot a cop and was killed himself. ISIL claimed responsibility. We didn't even know anything about it until I saw it the next morning on FB). Not to be looky-loos, but to go over to the Grand Palais. We thought perhaps you could go inside and look at the beautiful glass dome/ceiling, but as best we could determine, you have to get tickets to go in. There was a Rodin exhibition, but we weren't interested. Some other exhibitions, but nothing that we wanted to pay all that money to see. Maybe next time.

We then walked down and decided to do the Ferris Wheel. OK, so I'm not crazy. I have seen photos of this thing on the Place Concorde and I'm thinking, how could we have missed this the last three times we came to Paris (always in Sept). Well, I just googled it and it is a movable Ferris wheel! And it was only set up from Nov 11/16 to May 15/17. I think it comes back for the winter months! OK, I'm glad I just found out that I didn't somehow overlook a huge Ferris wheel! The price was a little steep, and you get one slow go around as it loads up, then one faster go around. We had an Aussie couple in the gondola with us, so had a nice little chat as we went around.

So after we went into the Tulleries and had a sit down for 10 min by the large pond. Then we were up and off for one of my 'must do's' in Paris...Angelina Pastry on rue de Rivoli. I had seen their beautiful pastries on IG and decided I must try one. They had the most beautiful piece of dessert I'd ever seen - a lovely red rose pastry that I guess was white choc mousse or something like that. It was gorgeous. Alas, it is a pastry they only make in the winter months. I honestly had a hard time deciding. We should have done their tea room and just splurged. But I opted instead for the Bianca. Vanilla white choc and vanilla mousse with a raspberry heart. http://www.angelina-paris.fr/en/new-collection/162-bianca.html Lord, the attention to detail was amazing, right down to the little pieces of gold foil and the 'dewdrops' on the raspberries. I almost didn't want to eat it. But I did, I'm not crazy. We will def return here when we get back to Paris.

Then this is where not having a plan fell apart a little. I wanted to head over to Les Halles, but hubby didn't seem to want to consult the map. I'm very stubborn, so I'm like, OK, I'll just wander over to where I think it is, trying to remember from when we were in the area in 2015. Mmmm, close but no cigar. I did pop into a church, and after getting cranky, the map finally go consulted and we found where we were going. So we went in the shopping area - it's quite huge. There is a multi theatre plex (I can't recall how many screens) and even a huge pool! We had to have our bags checked on the way in (sad commentary on the times). A lot of higher end shops - I don't think we found anything to buy. we did pop into Starbucks for some drinks, but it was too crowded to sit down. Our other haha for the day occurred when we were going to go out a certain exit. A security guard stopped us (they were doing construction, so I don't think the exit was useable). She asked us where we were trying to go and pointed us in the right direction. She apologized for her poor English and I said - well, it's much better than our French - and it got a chuckle out of her.

So then we decided to walk to a restaurant we really enjoyed last time we were in Paris (we had a super delicious burger and potatoes with a cheese dip in 2015). It is a bit of a hike but we meandered along and found it again. Called Buffet Bar and it's down a covered corridor. We just stumbled over it last time. We kinda had lunch and supper as it was 4pm, but we hadn't eaten any lunch that day (just the Angelina for me, and the Starbucks). So we got the same as last time. Almost as good, except the cheese dip seemed a little sharper and I didn't like it as much.

So after our food, we decided to go back to the room (via metro) to relax for a few hours before heading out so I could get some night shots at the Louvre and the Arc. It was about 6pm. Our host had told us the evening before about a new pastry place that had just opened a minute down the street from her apartment. So we went there first and I got a lovely lemon tart to take back to the room and enjoy (two pastries in one day!).

I figured we'd go back out around 8pm but got chatting with our host. We made the mistake of asking her about the upcoming election (not a believer in government, this one). But we also had some nice talks with her about other things. We finally got out at 9pm and took the metro to the Louvre.

I had seen photos on IG of the Louvre pyramid thru an arch - and when we had been there earlier (went over between Angelina and Les Halles) I noticed the area where the shot was taken. So we knew right where to go. Now, I imagine in the summer it would be near impossible to get a shot with no people in it - well, I lucked out. I had to wait a minute, but I managed to get some photos sans people. We walked thru the arch - again, I guess because of time of year there weren't many people about, and I got a lot of shots with no people. There was a small fashion shoot going on (or maybe it was someone doing glamour shots) and I managed to snap a few shots of a an Asian lady in a beautiful red dress, with the pyramid as a backdrop. Shhhh...don't tell. Took some photos down the Tulleries of the Ferris wheel and got some more amazing shots of the pyramid. So glad we went. Next, we hopped back on the metro and went to the Arc. Last time, I did some long exposures to get light trails, but the better shots somehow managed to get a hair/fluff on the lens, and the others - well, it was windy and there was some blur when I zoomed in. I wanted to use my remote but for some reason it wasn't cooperating. Tried doing some long exposures but it was over exposed. I did get a few nice shots, but I have to practice my long exposures more.

We decided to walk down to the Eiffel Tower - it had to have been 11pm by now. We did pass a sad scene - a young (looked like immigrant) family and two small children setting up sleeping bags on the sidewalk. Sad state of affairs. I gave them a few euro and really wished I'd had some candy for the little ones. We got to the Tower area about 11:30 and I took some shots from Trocadero - and can I say - it's quite lively there even at that time of night! We even got some popcorn from a food truck/cart! I was ready to head back to the room (the hot sun gave me quite the sunburn on my chest and neck!) but hubby wanted to see the 'twinkles'. So we made our way across the bridge...part way over decided to stop and then...twinkles! Never get tired of that. So now it was time to head back to the room. We would have walked under the tower (as we did in 2015) but it is now fenced off because of terrorism concerns and you have to go thru security. Meh - back to the room, not arriving until about 12:45 am! Long day. We are lucky we went back to the room after supper to rest!

Posted by u2traveller 11:35 Archived in France Comments (0)

Paris Louvre/London

Apr 22, 2017

After the late night out the evening before, it took us a bit to get going this morning. We also had to prepack our bags so we wouldn't be trying to do that later, in case we got delayed returning to the room. Our train to London was early evening, so I figured we had until about 4pm before we'd have to go back to the room and gather our luggage. We decided to revisit the Louvre, which we had first seen when we went to Paris in 2010.

Hopped the metro and had breakfast first at the Carrousel - there is a nice food court there...just had some juice and croissants. If you don't know about the much easier entrance to the Louvre at the Carrousel, look it up. Don't stand outside in the hot sun behind hundreds of other folks. The Carrousel is a mall (rather high end shops - including one that was all Maille mustard!) and there you can enter into the lower part of the Louvre. When we first went, there was one or two ticket machines in the mall itself. Now you head pretty much into the Louvre, past the gift shops, and they have a big room with (I didn't count, but best guesstimate) 15-20 machines and a counter with maybe a half dozen humans. We stood in the line for the machine for less than five minutes. As we were walking around later and looking out the windows to the courtyard, you could see hundreds of people waiting at the outside Pyramid entrance...just...no. They probably had a good hour or more wait. Go inside!

Having seen all the 'big ticket' items last time, we decided to wander some of the further reaches of the museum...and also apparently go back to see the big ticket items. We wandered over to the Richelieu to see the 5th-19th c. French Sculptures, thru the Mesopotamia room, over to the Sully wing to check out Venus de Milo (again) and the Denon wing to the 16th-19th c. Italian sculptures. Basically did the bottom floor, skipping a few sections. I think we skipped the lower ground floor - the place is actually like a maze - so many up and down stairs, I can't quite recall. We did go see 'Winged Victory' again, and back to see Mona Lisa. We may have breezed thru some of the 2nd floor paintings, but for something diff, we went to the 17th c. wing (blissfully uncrowded) and along to the Napoleon apartments, which were absolutely gorgeous. I think we did most of that wing with the Renaissance and Louis XIV sections. Beautiful household items - intricately decorated snuff boxes, beautifully painted tea cups and saucers and just on and on. We probably spent 3 hrs or so there before I started to go into museum meltdown.

So we had some euros we had to spend, so we wandered around the gift shops (nope) then into the Carrousel mall - again, most of the shops were higher end, but we did get some caramels and hard candies at Comtesse du Barry, and picked up a funky luggage tag at Pylones. After, we headed out to rue de Rivoli to see where else we could drop some euro. Went into one shop that sold cookies and picked up a few bags, and got a painting from a street artist to give as an Xmas gift for a relative at home. By now it was time to head back to the room - but we gave ourselves a little time to grab a sandwich and hamburger from the place across the road where we had bought the pizza the evening we arrived.

Off to Gare Nord for the Eurostar. We arrived an hour early, and it didn't take us too long to get thru passport control. We spent our last few euro on water and candy for the train trip. They don't give you many places to sit, so ended up pretty much on the floor. Getting on the train was pretty simple once they started letting people on. I've never been more happy to have headphones - we had a group of women behind us who I think had a shopping trip in Paris - they talked non-stop and with a lot of swearing peppered in. I just cranked the volume and tuned them out.

We arrived in London about 8:30 and loaded up the Oyster cards we had kept from our last trip. We took the tube to Acton Town, a short 5 min walk to our airbnb and we settled in for some tea and relaxed.

Posted by u2traveller 11:04 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

London/Brighton

Apr 23, 2017

So today we were taking the train to Brighton to meet up with my sister, mom (who was visiting said sister) and niece.

But first, I'll just post the FB rant I had...

What a way to start the morning. The bathroom where we are has a big walk in shower with a rain type shower head and a hand wand. So, I generally will go in the shower and turn it on to let the water warm. I am clothed of course, because it usually takes a minute. Well, the wand was set to come on first, and the thing was pointing directly at the opening...and me. You know where this is going. I didn't notice, turned on the water and got hit with a cold spray directly in the ...upper chest. Sleep shirt soaked. Pants wet. Face, glasses, hair wet. Water running out the opening and across the floor in front of the toilet where there is no drainage. Me alternately trying to mop it up with the small floor towel, get my soaking clothes off and turn the damn wand away from the opening since I can't go back in the shower to turn the wand fully clothed. I hope the rest of the day goes better. I am def telling the owners to either warn people about that or make sure the wand is towards the wall after they clean between guests.

It's funny now - not so much at the time.

I had purchased the tickets to Brighton beforehand to save some $$, so we went into Victoria Stn and I believe we got on the Gatwick Express, that just continued on to Brighton after stopping at Gatwick...about an hour all told, I believe. Before going, we grabbed some Krispy Kreme donuts, some OJ and coffee for the hubby. We only had 20GBP that we brought from home, so we knew we were going to have to find a bank machine before too long. When we arrived at Brighton, my sister was nowhere to be found - I think she got the arrival time of our train wrong by about 25 min...well, they finally showed up and off we went.

My niece worked in Brighton for many months, so she knew right where to take us. Right to the downtown shopping area. We hadn't done a lot of shopping, but now that we were on our last few days, we went a little crazy. I got some great tin mugs with the cutest birds, so cactus shaped tea lights, a mug cake cook book, some candy (Hires root beer licorice), a really cute squirrel tea infuser, hubby got a card game called Monty Python Fluxx (which is great fun). I got some cards with birds that I plan on framing. A bird print called Guide to British Tits (or something like that...cheeky...it is actually birds). Into the mall where we got my favourite fudge (Thorntons) and hubby bought some Clarks shoes! (We did find a bank machine whilst doing all this shopping).

We were getting pretty hungry by now so sister took us to a place called Yates...which was...underwhelming. I had fish and chips, hubby had - either chicken strips or a burger. It was OK. My mom had a club sandwich, which I feel like I should have got - it looked yummy. Off down to wander along the beach and to the Pier. It was a nice day - little cool. Popped into some of the shops along the waterfront - some gorgeous stuff, but we ended up not buying anything after the shopping orgy we just had. I saw some lovely photographic prints. The walk along the pier was nice - I can see how it would be a blast in the summer. Very loud inside - lots of noisy games. And lots of seagulls posing for photos. We then headed up to the Royal Pavilion for a walk around and then it was ice cream time. We managed to find a seat at Sprinkles Gelato. Wowee - what a time deciding. You can choose different flavours of gelato or look at the menu and pick a sundae. I love ice cream sundaes and really had a hard time, but since I was sharing with hubby, I had to get something he would like. We went with a mint sundae - delish.

We still had a little time so we went back down to the beach and had a sit down on the wall. And I think I got hit on by some guy in a wheelchair...lol. He saw me taking photos and proceeded to chat - with my mom, husband, sister and niece there. I think he was just being friendly. My sister disagrees. ;)

Time to head back to the train...I think we were heading back about 7pm or so. We waved as my sister et al got their train to Portsmouth while we waited for our train. The weirdest thing was that the train got held up at one of the stops because of a freight train. We arrived back about 18 min late. Because the train was more than 15 min late, we could have been reimbursed for our ticket! Imagine! It's because they have been having issues with delays. We didn't want to bother since we'd only paid like 5GBP for the ticket. Thinking of the time we used VIA Rail here at home...coming back from Montreal and I think the train was a good 2-2.5 hrs late. No offer of compensation...just how it is.

We stopped into WH Smith and got some magazines (Britain had the BEST magazines - I love the paper craft ones because they always have neat additions - stamps, dies, paper...awesome. And hubby got his Sci-Fi magazine). Then back to the room to have some snacks and relax.

Posted by u2traveller 06:54 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

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