European Tour 2018 – Wrap-up

Adventure, food, Just things, Travel, Uncategorized

We came crashing back down to Earth pretty hard after we got back to Seattle. We got to our hotel and barely made it to 8:30 PM. We had to run out to get a bite to eat but couldn’t muster up the energy for anything more than that before falling asleep. After being up for about 20 hours straight flying home, the Sandman dumped a bucketful on us and we were out.

Jim got on the plane and went back home Wednesday morning; I got to my apartment and have been taking care of some personal business needing my attention. I did not want to do that necessarily but it could not wait and needed to be handled. I started back to work today and it was good to have things taken care of before I went back.

I wanted to post our experiences in different places we went, mentioning some names and give some businesses their due while we were out and about. I would have rather added these places into the posts as we travelled, but trying to do it on my phone was tedious; it is much easier on a desktop.

I won’t get into comparisons, differences and politics between our experiences in these different countries and the US; I do have my opinions on these things but they won’t be published on here. Everyone we ran into everywhere we went were extremely helpful and friendly to us without regard to our nationality. People from all sorts of religions and ethnicity ate together in the same restaurants and sat next to each other on the buses and trains without rude comments or slurs. A few people wanted to ask questions – out of simple curiosity – about what is happening in the States, which we did respond to truthfully and without hesitation.

Language – Western Europe is more “English-speaking” than it was the farther east we went but we did fine. I tried to order my food in the local language if I could wherever we were (which was obviously not a problem in the U.K.!), and the people were helpful and smiled when I tried to pronounce something and couldn’t quite nail it – at least I attempted it. I tried to use local words for everything I could since you cannot (and shouldn’t) take for granted everyone knows English. Some people here in the US expect (actually demand) English to be spoken when here so it works both ways when visiting another country. Most people we met could speak multiple languages and with the different countries so close it is a necessity. They are taught multiple languages in schools from an early age. For example, it was either Belgium or Luxembourg (cannot remember for sure) who used Dutch, French and German languages. Notice that English was not mentioned.

Most everywhere we went there is serious consideration given to real energy conservation. The hotels all had LED lighting, and you had to use your room keycard to turn on the electricity in your room. You take it out to leave and the lights shut off. Sometimes the steam heat doesn’t come on until it gets to be a certain temperature in the office downstairs.

Every city in Europe was very clean pretty much everywhere we visited. They run sweepers and people pick up trash daily. There are trash receptacles and ash trays all over so there is no excuse to litter (there is no excuse anyway – you had room to bring it so you take it back). Even the train stations were clean and felt safe.

I have been asked about my “favorite part” of the trip or “favorite city” we visited. It was all my favorite as each experience was unique. We are really all the same on this planet and I think that everyone should do a trip like this to see what it is like in the rest of the world. It is good to experience other cultures and talk with the people. I really had no idea about what to expect or have any real preconceived notions about what we would see on the trip. It was ALL a life-changing experience for me and it ALL was amazing and eye-opening. I took several things away from this trip personally. I cannot wait to go back again in the Fall, and would love to go stay for a few months at some point to really immerse in it.

Now for some other thoughts on various things we did, places we stayed and ate at. This list is not a comprehensive one.

AIRLINES

Icelandair – inexpensive and great service, friendly staff

KLM – great service and friendly; they gave us free food on-board even in the cheap seats!

Aer Lingus – very friendly staff and great service

easyJet – gate personnel were not very organized; late leaving Edinburgh

All of our flights were smooth, planes were clean, flight crew were friendly. We did have to load and unload on the tarmac on most of our flights so be prepared for that! There are so many budget carriers and easyJet was one of those that we were on. With only a carry-on bag we had no problems. I would fly them again in spite of the disorganized gate personnel.

TRAINS

Eurostar – high-speed between London and the Continent; f-a-s-t, smooth and quiet

Eurail – Eurail is NOT a rail line; it is a pass that you can use on almost all of the many, many trains around Europe (NOT the UK, though). It is a pretty good bargain given the flexibility even though it may seem steep at first glance.

The public transit in Europe is amazing. You can get pretty much anyplace you want to go and several options to do so reasonably. Do not rent a car unless you really need it; parking is OMG expensive WHEN you can find it and London has a “Congestion Charge” for about 35 Euro a DAY!

HOTELS

Hotel d’Amsterdam – guess where

Sheldon Park Hotel – Dublin

Travelodge – Edinburgh

Point A Hotel – London

Comfort Inn – Brussels

Hotel Bristol in Luxembourg

Ibis Hotel – Köln, Germany

Ambassador Suites – Antwerp

Hotel CC – Amsterdam

Van der Valk Hotel Schiphol A4 – Amsterdam

Just a blanket statement for these: I would easily stay at any of these hotels again and I actually plan to when I go back. Clean, quiet, and decent rooms for a decent price and a few even had breakfast included. Rooms are much different than here in the States so it may test your comfort zone. Americans are not used to rooms like these so expect beds right next to each other in small rooms and probably steam heat. No washcloths in Europe either!

FOOD and PINTS

Costa Coffee – across Europe; their version of that unmentionable US brand but has good coffee unlike that US brand

Co-op markets in London

Au Pains de Papy bakery in London

le Chambord in Brussels

Casa Mamma in London

The Albanach in Edinburgh

The Scotsman in Edinburgh

MISCELLANEOUS

I bought two books by Rick Steves, which I mentioned previously in an earlier post. I found his books to be very helpful for the “real” traveler – one who wants to see the real Europe and not just the touristy hot spots and attractions. From my previous travels I knew many of his tips already (packing, no checked baggage, etc.), but I think his books are very good for everyone to read and I definitely learned a few things from reading them.

We used backpack luggage to do our trip – one apiece. We had plenty of room and the only problem with it was the weight restrictions of the airlines. Our bags alone weighed 2.3 kg, and the total limit was 10 kg so there was no bringing back souvenirs on this trip (except for a 500g package of smoked cheese!). Following guidelines in the book we packed the same amount of clothes recommended and did laundry once along with washing and drying a few items in our hotel rooms. The more you pack, the more you have to carry. Next time I hope to use an airline that will allow more weight carried in luggage. I do plan on being more stationary and can ship items home.

There were so many good places across Europe to eat. We saw American fast food restaurants everywhere and that is a horrible thing to do to a society with such an amazing centuries-old food culture. The foods we ate tasted fresher and more delicious than similar things we have eaten in the States. The bakery items are indescribably good and the selection is huge.

All told since Jim arrived in Seattle we walked 103.15 miles in 16 days including Seattle and Europe. One day was over 10 miles alone. Our average over the entire time we were together was somewhere around 6.4 miles a day. Not a bad amount of exercise!

MAPS

Here are some simple maps to show our route. It may appear we did nothing but go, and I guess that’s true, but it was not at all hectic. The planes and trains were only an hour or two apart between cities we went to; much like it would be getting around in the northeastern US. We found we had time to see and do things and get a good taste of the places we went but not get too run down in the process. When I go back again I will break it up and do continental Europe in one trip and the U.K. in a separate one to save time and travel expenses. It would also give you more time to get a car and get away from the cities to see the countryside.

If you have any questions about our adventure feel free to send me a message and I will respond.

Europe – Day 11 – February 4th, 2018: Antwerp, Belgium to Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Adventure, food, Just things, pictures, Travel, Uncategorized

The view from our room in Antwerp, Belgium

We got some pretty good rest last night and headed out around 9. When we got to the station it was right on time to catch our first train of the day to go to Amsterdam, and to finish the trip a train change in Rotterdam. We saw a couple of classic windmills yesterday as we went through the countryside.

We were told the Antwerp station is a UNESCO World Heritage Site but I haven’t verified that as of yet. It’s the same as the others we have been in – grand, beautiful and a reminder of the opulence of earlier times that continue today in Europe. The station here is the most incredible one that I’ve ever seen.

Interesting escalator with two pitches in Antwerpen Centraal – Antwerp, Belgium

Antwerpen Centraal – Antwerp, Belgium

There were not any pictures taken in the train. The windows were just too nasty to see anything very clearly. We got into a little weather but we have been prepared for it pretty well.

Once we got to Amsterdam our hotel was a five minute walk, and it turned out better than what we thought it would be. Lots and lots of foods and plenty of vice in the area – “coffeehouses”, sex shops, prostitutes in windows, “smart shops” and the like. Not an area for the weak or prude or kids. Our hotel was in the Redlight District (just for a change of neighborhoods and nothing else other than it was very affordable yet nice). It is a lively area with a lot to see and do.

We got settled in and went out for something to eat. We have eaten the frites min a few places around the city before and they are delicious. They deep-fry the fries until almost done, then take them out and set them aside. When you order them, they pop them back into the fryer to finish cooking and it also gives them that delectable crunch.

We opted instead for a waffle. I had a waffle with Nutella drizzled over it and I also got a strawberry crepe. We did some more strolling around after that to see more sights then went back to the hotel.

I went out for a walk alone when it got dark out. I wanted to get out into the night’s crowds and excitement and check out the area. It is a very exciting area with tons of food to try. I went back to the hotel and Jim was ready to go out again.

Church in Redlight District – Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Street in front of our hotel – Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Street in front of our hotel – Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Nighttime in Amsterdam

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oh…damn…

We got out for a walk and a late-night snack. I got this tasty morsel – a chocolate-covered flaky croissant, split and filled with creme filling, strawberries, walnuts, and topped with Nutella.

This is a fun city, and nighttime is even more exciting. The first place we stayed in on the way over was in a different area than this last one in the Red Light District. Completely different feel but I did like them both.

It’s a great last evening for now!

Europe – Day 10 – February 3rd, 2018: Köln, Germany to Antwerp, Belgium

Adventure, food, Just things, pictures, Travel, Uncategorized

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Back to the rails!

After a delicious bakery breakfast (gonna miss the bakeries!), it’s back on the train to our next stop. Our hotel is situated not only on the open plaza between two cathedrals, out the back door is a shopping center (with the previously mentioned bakeries) located in the train station. Of course we had to go there for breakfast.

Apparently the train is another high-speed train, and it seems as though we may be in a First Class car. Plenty of room, comfy and hauling ass. They checked our ticket and passports and didn’t make us move. This train and the one yesterday had a coffee/snack cart just like the airlines do. The seats even have fold-down footrests!

Our original plan was to stay at Brugge (Bruges), Belgium but there were no rooms available when we arrived so we had to move on. Seems as though there was a bier festival happening so it was quite busy. We didn’t have much time to look around the city and we needed to move on to find a place to stay for the night. Looks like we’re headed to Antwerp!

Brugge, Belgium

Doorway – Brugge, Belgium

One of the canals in Brugge, Belgium

One of the canals in Brugge, Belgium

Church in Brugge, Belgium

 

We got to Antwerp and the train station was remarkable. We have seen nice train stations but this one was extraordinary.

Antwerpen Centraal Station – Antwerp, Belgium

Antwerpen Centraal Station – Antwerp, Belgium

Antwerpen Centraal Station – Antwerp, Belgium

Antwerpen Centraal Station – Antwerp, Belgium

 

Antwerpen Centraal Station – Antwerp, Belgium

Our hotel ended up being rather interesting. We ended up staying in. Hassidic neighborhood and our hotel was far from any sights and food except for a local pizza chain. It appeared to be a somewhat rundown area but it wasn’t too bad when we went walking. There was a local Polish grocery market. The pizza was a quatro formaggi, but we are not sure WHICH formaggi. I think it was feta, mozzarella but not sure about the other two. It was different than cheese pizzas I have had before and it was delicious and the best cheese pizza I’ve ever tasted. The walk to get it was actually interesting and fun.

We crashed early and got a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow it’s another place!